Monday, September 19, 2005

Media: Marketing and Mind Control

Posted by guest blogger La Femme Nikita:

So I was at a local bar with L’ Homme and some friends for some hott karaoke (more on that in another guest post). This guy gets up there with his blonde “chippie” friend to sing something or other, and I immediately felt a sense of dislike for the guy. Now, Some Guy will tell you that I’m not judgmental or opinionated (hee!), but even with that, I usually don’t have that sort of immediate reaction to a complete stranger. But the first thing I noticed about the guy, apart from is practiced casual pose with the microphone in one hand and the cigarette held just-so in the other, was his perfectly white starched Polo button-down. The insignia was embroidered in black thread, which stood out starkly against the crisp white of the shirt… The dude wanted the world to notice that he was wearing Polo, and Ralph Lauren certainly wanted me to notice, or else the logo either would have been tone on tone or it would have not been there in the first place...

Now, I studied and earned my undergrad degree in marketing (my very proud Mommy says I put the BS in my Bachelor of Science. Thanks Mommy). So among other oddities, like the inconsistency of the cost of cheese on products at McDonalds (more on that Seinfeldian observation in another guest blog), I notice things like this most often, be it in commercials or in life. In my job, I’m often making modified sales pitches, so it’s important to “read” a person to determine what is important to them in order to decide which aspects of the “product” to hype; and you can tell a lot about a person based on what they own and what their product preferences are. As Some Guy in DC can tell you, demographics are not good predictors of behavior, specifically with respect to purchasing behaviors.

The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) developed a system called VALS, standing for Values And Life Styles, which tries to predict consumer behavior based on personality traits as opposed to other sorts of measurements like income. The best example I can give of this is that there are many millionaires who certainly have the income to drink imported beer, but just because they have the money to do so doesn’t mean they will. Depending on their personality, they might be more likely to drink Budweiser or Coors instead of Heineken or Stella Artois.

In the movie and book “High Fidelity”, main character Rob at one point comments that it isn’t what we’re like but rather what we like that defines us. To a degree this is true, that our preferences and purchases do define us to an extent. Let’s face it: any brand of toothpaste will work; in fact, baking soda and peroxide will do the trick. But there’s a reason you buy Crest over Colegate, or the whitening toothpaste over the one that makes your breath smell like mint leaves. Any old car will get you from point A to point B, but there’s a reason someone buys a Porche Boxter or a Dodge Ram.

We have an image of ourselves in our heads; a way we want the world to see us. And we reinforce this image through our product use. The sum of the way we appear to others (dress, car, home, slang, etc.) equals a tangible representation of our values and our personalities. This isn’t a judgment of that; there is no inherently “good” or “bad” product preference, it just is what it is…

Image is everything, and with respect to products, marketing defines the image of the product. Case in point is Marlboro cigarettes…

Before you click on this link for the complete history of Marlboro’s branding, what’s the first thing you think of when you think of Marlboro? The Marlboro Man, right? Interestingly enough, Marlboro’s original tag line was “Mild as May,” and from 1902 until post-WWII they were branded as a woman’s cigarette. It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that the image of the Marlboro Man appeared, due to declining market share and fears of lung cancer.

After all, marketing is all about making you, the consumer, feel as though you have a problem that can only be solved through using product X. And marketing provides those definitions for us: the products that are “cool” (iPod) or the products that are “traditional” (Brooks Brothers). So that when we use these things, we are by association cool or traditional or sexy or hip or urban or chic or whatever. So I guess the greater point to my rambling is that we should be aware of the hype that influences our choices.

It’s hard not to buy into the media machine. And how this relates to Some Guy in DC’s blog in the greater sense is that we also pick our politicians based on who we like. So people like Karl Rove know this, and they craft the image of their guy to match the persona that most people from their voting base will like. Unfortunately, most of us don’t pick our guy based on the issues, but whether or not we'd have dinner with the guy.

So at the end of the day, just remember it is all smoke and mirrors. Don’t believe the advertising.
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