Friday, May 2, 2008


I really don't remember much from elementary school, but I DO remember the first time we were ever taught about advertising. It was a Wednesday, I believe, and we were heading up the library for our designated reading time (once a week, we would go to the library to pick out books to read).

This week, we weren't going to read a book. We were going to watch a special video. So, like little children, we climbed up "Hershey Hill" 
As you can see, it is called Hershey Hill because it looks like chocolate and a hill. And, damn, I can't believe I was every so tiny. 

Anyways, we scampered up the thing and sat down for the video. The teacher turns out the lights and we start watching a video on...advertising! I don't remember the specifics, but the video went through a lot of the commericals out at the time (like "ZOMG, Sign up and WIN!") and how they all had fine print explaining what was REALLY going on.

And I was all like "DAMN, those buggers are trying to trick me into BUYING stuff!"

Of course, I was pretty liberal throughout most of middle school and high school. My opinion didn't really budge much: my opinion on marketing was really sour. My high school broadcasting teacher especially was really against it, citing how marketing warps the minds of young people, especially on topics like beauty and love.

I have since taken a couple marketing classes, and I have to say that I am still somewhat confused on the issue. 

Ideally, in a free market, marketing provides essential information to consumers. It's hard for a market to operate effectively without someone performing that information-distributing function.

On the other hand, marketing does a LOT more than just "provide information." Marketers don't just sell products: they sell ideas and lifestyles. Take, for example, DeWalt. Originally, Black and Decker was getting was getting smacked across the face pretty hard by Makhita in contractor power tools market (IE, the independent contractors and carpenters, not the big boys or the home use power tool folk). Considering that market was growing especially fast, Black and Decker really needed a new strategy.

BAM! DeWalt comes rolling out from the Black and Decker people. DeWalt is a MAN's power tool. It's a yellow and black power tool, which is unique in the power tools market (Black and Decker used black, Makhita used teal) allowing market differentiation. It also looked pretty damn cool...yellow is a commonly used color on construction sites, after all: it implies safety.

Not only that, DeWalt's tools were designed to big and bulky, and rough to the touch: JUST the way a MAN wants his power tools. And the box it came in was pretty damn hard, too. Yep, DeWalt was a marketing success, and because it was sold as an IDEA and not just a product.

Some view this as underhanded. In a way, I suppose it is. It is using human psychology to help sell a product. HOWEVER, is it really that bad to use psychology to help sell a product?

We all accept that humans have basic needs, like food and water. We all accept that humans have higher needs in an advanced economy, like the need for internet, or, in DeWalt's case, the need for a tool that can fix stuff. And we accept that it is alright for a company to make a bit of money by satisfying those needs in the marketplace.

But don't people have psychological needs as well? Humans also have "needs" for truth, belonging, beauty, love, and acceptance. Unfortunately, not everyone can get these needs totally satisfied in their relationships or religion. In that case, a product that can also satisfy those psychological needs is a SUPERIOR product. So why shouldn't companies strive to give us products that make us feel popular and cool as well as products that allow me to download 148378374834 terrabytes of television shows per second? 
It's HUMANITARIAN, dammit!

On the other hand, if marketers end up dilly-dallying around with the psychology of people, there can be some pretty harmful consequences. Our perception of beauty, of what is cool and isn't cool, and even right and wrong, are indeed colored by the commercial images we see every day. 

The question is begged though...don't we all have some influence on that?

It's a confusing topic. Overall, I support modern marketing: it meets the needs of consumers more effectively than past marketing. It also could have negative social consequences.

Who knows?

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