Needing Wants

Is marketing manipulation, information, or a delivery system? Are you not thankful that from an ad campaign you found a better deal on your last car? Wasn’t it that press release that told you about that new album? Where was it you heard about that bad you want?

You aren’t suddenly going out and buying a Volvo just because they have ads on, so isn’t marketing simply informing us of options?

The modern marketer is a good story teller. The idea of purely functional marketing is gone, because only the few really understand the details that make their computer function, or what material their clothes should be made from, or why their chair is comfortable. What is being sold is never the product features, but what it does. How does you new Macbook change your work and life?

Desire seems like a nice way to sell things. The other strong emotion marketing often plays on is fear. You will be left behind if you do not join Facebook. This game is for Playstation only. The best parents buy this pram, so are you a good mum or a complete asshole? Fear works.

But ultimately people will buy stuff. They need some stuff to live, and some stuff to make their lives a little better. Do you really need a coffee hit, or did you try it the first time because the cool kids were doing it? You weren’t addicted when you started smoking, so was the first one just because everyone else was doing it?

We tell ourselves stories when we make a purchase. I’m the kind of guy who goes to the gym everyday may be one story (certainly not mine). Some ideas sell themselves. Cocaine doesn’t have a Brand Manager, MDMA hasn’t got a Creative Director, and speed lacks a CMO. Marketing, branding, and advertising all come down to awareness, interest, and fear or desire.

Sometimes our choices aren’t really choices though.

Seth Godin was working on a product for child education. They didn’t have a strong name or brand behind them yet, and they asked themselves, who is our biggest competitor? Fisher Price. The approach instead of going head to head with them, was to licence their name. They then sold the Fisher Price version, and their own. The branded one was more expensive, for parents who wanted a reputable brand. Theirs was the second option, which may work as well but without the same confidence. Whichever choice you made though, the money went to the same place.

If you want to quickly understand why you don’t have a choice, you need only look at the catalog of brands under the Unilever or Coke labels.

What we buy is closely associated with how we live, what we do, who we are. Every purchase connects us to ideas we have. Staying informed is crucial for some, doing the right thing for someone else, and cost for another. The most unlikely reason for a purchase though is rational thinking.