marketing secretly influences us

Every day we make decisions. But do we make conscious decisions every day?

We’d sure like to think so…

Why do we choose one brand over the other? Why do we drink cow’s milk and not another animal’s milk? If cows’ milk is healthy for you, then why don’t we give it to newborn babies?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I don’t watch much TV, but I do enjoy the new hit show Adam Ruins Everything. The creator and host, Adam Conover, comically dispels widespread misconceptions about a variety of truths we believe.

Adam Ruins Everything

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The marketer in me LOVES this show because it illustrates how corporations have used smart marketing and advertising strategies to manipulate our decisions and sell more of what they want us to buy.

Let’s discuss 3 examples of how powerful good marketing can be, and how you can use the same strategies to increase sales for your business that corporations have been using for decades.

1. Why you’re insecure about bad breath

Rewind to 1895. The year Listerine was invented as a surgical antiseptic.  Eventually, it was distilled and used as a jack-of-all-trades product – not limited to foot scrubbing, floor cleaning, and gonorrhea treating.

People didn’t pay much attention to the product until the 1920’s though.

That’s when the dental care aisle would be forever changed.

The Lambert Pharmacal Company devised a marketing plan to advertise Listerine as a way to prevent bad breath.  Reverting back to an old Latin phrase that meant, “unpleasant breath,” the term “halitosis” was coined and inserted into the company’s advertisements.  Because it vaguely resembles medical terminology, they positioned it as a health condition.

The company’s marketing campaign went in this direction:

Listerine ran advertisements in many papers talking about the sad, unmarried Edna, who remained single as she watched her friends getting married. It’s not that she wasn’t a great gal! It’s just, she had this condition.

Having bad breath was now considered a social taboo.  Friends and family would talk behind your back if your breath was offensive, but they’d never tell you.  Lambert Pharmacal played off of their audience’s insecurities and touched on these specific pain points in their marketing messages.

These ads proved to be extremely successful because who wants to suffer from a health condition? No one! In fact, they were so successful that in only 7 years, the company’s revenue rose by 4000%.

Before Listerine’s marketing strategy, we never thought twice about having bad breath. Now we spend over 658.4 million dollars in the U.S. just to have minty-fresh breath!

That is the power of creating a good marketing message.  Their advertisements told a story that their audience could connect with.

How can you apply this to your business?

Put your customer’s mind at ease.

Insurance companies use this strategy all the time.  We pay them “just in case” something was to happen.  “Like a good neighbor state farm is there!”  Sound familiar?

This kind of marketing strategy is used to put your customer’s mind at ease.  Think about what your customers worry about.  What “insurance, maintenance plan or guarantee” could you offer to make them feel more comfortable in purchasing your product or service?

Make it a priority to reduce any risk in your customer’s mind .

2. Don’t Be a Jay!

Before there were cars in the street, there were people and bicycles.  Then street cars came onto the scene and by the 1920s-30s, more people started driving, no coincidence that this is the same time when Ford began to mass-produce the Model T.

Drivers would race down the streets with no caution to the crowds of people and pedestrians. Fatalities from car accidents were becoming common.  People began thinking cars were dangerous and wanted to ban cars.  This would take a huge toll on the automotive industry.

So they fought back.  The automobile industry created a massive pedestrian-shaming campaign.  They planted stories in newspapers that blamed pedestrians for car accidents.

The same way Listerine coined the term “halitosis,” the automobile industry did the same thing with “jaywalking”.

They took a Midwest colloquialism and turned it into a crime.  In the 20th Century, “jay” was synonymous with “rube” – a judgemental term for rural residents who, by city-dwellers, were assumed to be stupid and unintelligent, or perhaps just naïve.  Such an uneducated person did not know to stay out of the way of other pedestrians and speedy cars.  The term “jaywalking” became part of the everyday vernacular.

jaywalking ad

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These ads were incredibly effective.  Even today, it is well-known that streets are for cars, and “jaywalking” is a crime.

How can you apply this to your business?  

Let your customers’ know they are committing a crime without your product or service.

We have been so affected by effective marketing campaigns that we feel obligated to act on certain advertisements.

Don’t you feel obligated to give a tip when you see the designated area for a tip, even when you order takeout? Or when a cashier asks you in front of everyone else in line if you’d like to donate to a specific charity?

As an example, carpet cleaning companies could use this kind of marketing strategy as a concept for why customers need to use their monthly service: If you don’t get your carpets shampooed once a month, dirt, germ, and bacteria get trapped in the fibers and can make your family sick.

 The bottom line is, this strategy works.  We all have succumbed to purchasing a product or service due to the use of this strategy.

3. If you like it then you better put a ring on it

Thanks to Beyoncé’s Grammy winning song Single Ladies, this particular phrase has become internationally popular.  But, the meaning behind that message has been around long before Beyoncé started strutting her stuff.

Before the 1930s, engagement rings were not exchanged.  There were dowry chests, arranged marriages, and other forms of engagement.

The De Beers Diamond Cartel changed that in 1938.  They launched a massive campaign that convinced consumers diamonds were a symbol of love and commitment.

In 1947, they created the famous advertising slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” It was so successful that in 2000, Advertising Age magazine named that phrase the best advertising line of the 20th Century.

But that wasn’t the end of their successful campaign trail. They had ads for the ‘etenity ring’ – symbolizing affection and appreciation, the ‘trilogy ring’ – representing the past, present, and future of a relationship, and even the ‘right-hand ring’ –bought and worn by women to symbolize their independence from men.

De Beers even manipulated their customers into rethinking about how much they were spending on engagement rings.  The rule “purchase a ring equivalent to 3 month’s salary” was part of a De Beers Diamond Cartel marketing campaign.

Diamonds are practically worthless, but that doesn’t stop us from spending thousands on a ring for our beloved.

In the course of 40 years, De Beers’s revenues rose from $23 million to $2.1 billion.  The idea that a diamond ring means commitment and forever is so engrained in our minds that nothing will stop us from buying the “precious” gems.

How can you apply this to your business?  

Use social proof to prove customers love your product or service.

Yes, of course.  It is human nature to feel compelled to act upon what is socially correct.  That’s how we are wired.  So making your product the social norm in your industry will have your customers lining up to make purchases.

The best way to show prospective customers that your product is socially accepted is by providing testimonials, reviews, and statistics about the number of customers served.

From there, the bandwagon effect will take over.  It’s the herd mentality that has driven humans forever.  We tend to think or act in certain ways because other people are doing it.  It’s a widespread cognitive bias that completely contaminates our ability to use common sense or think for ourselves.

It’s this idea of the herd mentality that all marketers, regardless of industry, are aiming to target.  If they can cloud your own beliefs and manipulate your psyche, then you are eating out of the palm of their hand.

That’s how powerful marketing contributes to achieving high conversion rates and increasing sales.  Businesses thrive if their marketing and advertisement campaigns can pinpoint the insecurities, pain points, and psychological biases of their targeted audience.  We are socially constructed to be influenced by attractive campaigns.

I believe the biggest reason we are so easily swayed by marketing campaigns is because they are shaped by us, for us.  Humans and our culture are mutually constitutive, meaning we shape our culture, and our culture is shaped by us.  Hand-in-hand, we fall into the trap of solid marketing campaigns.

The secret is that we are easily tricking ourselves, and not even realizing it. We blindly open up our wallets and hand over money if it means our lives will be easier (and fit in with the rest of society).