It’s Marketing, Not Mind Control

Scott: Posted on Thursday, April 05, 2012 3:06 PM

I remember my time at the University of Missouri- School of Journalism quite fondly. But one lecture in particular has always stayed with me. Don Ranly, distinguished professor of my Intro to Journalism class stood in front of us and said one day whilst stroking his snow-white-Kenny-Rogers-like beard, “Advertising…(long dramatic pause for effect) makes people buy things they neither want or need.”  Silence.  

He went on to make the case for that argument saying that if we wanted to study advertising and public relations, we’d better know that not everyone out there was a fan. So the short version goes like this. By their very nature, advertising and PR inform consumers about a bevy of products and are ultimately responsible for consumers buying many things that they don’t want or need.  Yes, American consumerism (which fuels the economy by the way) is largely the fault of…marketing. If you didn’t know there was such a thing as an iPhone, then you wouldn’t desire it and thus you would spend you money on what I suppose would be deemed more enterprising pursuits or saving it in a move that would please ING Direct and also the purveyors of this type of argument and thinking.

But…(and it’s a big ol butt here) there is this little thing called “individual free will” and I hate to spoil things but, Marketing, PR, Advertising and yes, even the newly anointed savior of communications, “Social Media” do NOT help companies to control people’s minds. And if it did, we would be able to charge a heck of lot more for it. Although, “Robertson Mind Control” does have a nice ring to it. Under the program goals, we’d just put “control the consumer’s mind so they buy this product although we know they really don’t need it.”  (cue to stroking my evil mustache and maniacal laughter- hahahahahahah!)

Ok class, here’s how it really works. People buy the things they want and smart marketers tell great stories about those things to help feed and nurture what is already taking shape in the consumer’s mind.  But to literally blame the messenger for the resulting behavior misses the mark a bit.  Most PR programs talk about “creating awareness” and many stop there too. One of my favorite Stephen Colbert bits has him talking to a non-profit group that says on-camera “We’re trying to raise awareness about this serious problem”  And Colbert dryly remarks “I see…and how much awareness have you raised?”
I’m a fan of adding in additional steps after the creation of awareness that hopefully motivate the consumer to action. But the consumer decides and is responsible for that choice every single time. To suggest otherwise gives marketers way too much credit and power and let’s face it, those people have big enough heads already.

Consumers — own your choices and Marketers, do what you can to tell your story, make your case and build a strong relationship with the consumer.  And may the best brand win!