Author Name: Roman Russo
The main question of this book is why despite all the promise of modern day society and specifically marketing we are still not happy and how we can maximize the quality of life.
Length of Sample (in words): 5500
Chapter 1 – Endless Pursuit of Perfection
– By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself.
This highly applauded message was delivered by comedian Bill Hicks in his London performance called Revelations (1993). People simply resonate with this message and it does not take a comedian to realize that there are many people skeptical about advertising and marketing. But why is that?
As a student and professional in a field of marketing working for some large companies for many years I have seem a lot of skepticism towards my profession first hand and I decided to get to the bottom of it.
Back in the university day I did not even want to study marketing, as my passion was psychology, but my parents convinced me against it. We did compromise on me studying business and later I specialized in marketing, which I saw as psychology of business. It made sense to me because I wanted to understand people. No, actually, I wanted to manipulate them. Truth to be told, I was a very insecure and immature individual at that age. I did not understand how world worked and I was desperate to find out. The only person whom I really wanted to manipulate was myself.
During my first day in the class I met many aspiring marketing students, one of whom told me:
“Marketing is only good to make money. We will sell useless products to people and make millions! We may destroy some lives in the process. So what? Like everyone else is not doing the same. What, do you want to be a dentist or a doctor? No! Making money is the most important. We don’t have to be happy doing what we do. After we have money we can buy happiness”.
At this point I was sure that not only consumers were skeptical about marketing but also young marketers believed that they were studying to cause trouble.
Several years after my studies, I attended a major marketing conference with an audience list was composed of top marketing specialists from many major industries in the world. The topic of a conference was how to increase advertisement effectiveness and to make marketing look less threatening to the consumers. On the way out of the conference I was convinced that even high-level marketing professionals saw their profession as less than benevolent.
Still, I was not convinced that all skepticism toward marketing was founded.
Living in modern day society is great. Today we have more comfort and opportunity than kings in 15th century. Our lives are much better than these of our parents when they were our age and future generations in future it is only expecting to get better. Today we have access to supermarkets, convenience stores, Internet on our personal computers and smartphones, which allows almost virtually instant access to products unheard before products like salmon, pineapples and coffee. This convenience gives ease, flexibility, freedom and choice that did not exist before. We can buy anything, go anywhere, and be anyone who we so want. We live in a century of wealth and abundance. No one is expected to die of disease and hunger, at least in the developed countries of western world.
We are the 1%. We have much more than 99% of population of the world. We are the elite that we were always striving to become. Our problems are someone else’s dreams. We are living The Life.
But inside we may not think that this is enough. We want more. We want the life of 1% or our 1%, which is 0.01%. Interestingly enough this is exactly what the people who have achieved what we want think. The only difference is that they want to be 1% of their own 0.01%. Oppositely, the people who want what we have will say that if only they had what we have they would be happy, but this is an infinite cycle and we are all trapped in it. We have already so much but often we don’t recognize it.
Moreover, there is another side to modern day consumerism, which we can see in things like debt, depression, stress, obesity, antisocial behavior, identity crisis, wars, and destruction of nature. Indeed it is ironic that what we love so much about today’s society is exactly what causes us so much pain.
We are surrounded by messages and images of exaggerated reality, which simply cannot be. We are promotes perfection through images of beautiful, young and photoshopped people who have it all and tell us to desire the same. We are told white lies repeatedly, which over time we start to accept, believe, and desire.
Being forever incomplete human beings we strive for completing and therefore we find the message of perfection quite appealing. We start looking and wishing for it in our lives, secretly dreaming of waking up one day and have all our wishes, desires and aspirations come true. But perfection by definition is unreachable. Chasing it is like being a donkey that is forever chasing a carrot, never truly able to catch it, forever chasing a dream, with few people who actually achieve it saying that it is not what they wanted. Quoting famous comedian Jim Carrey: “I hope everybody could get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that it’s not the answer.”
Perfection tells us how to walk, talk and dress, it tells us whether we are too young and too old, too little or too tall, whether we are right or the wrong. And if you are not right you are wrong and if you are wrong be sure to hear about it, and in some cases to be punished for it.
People are told that their inability to achieve perfection is their own fault. Still, no one seems to consider implications of dumping unlimited choice on consumers and expecting them to know what they want and why. It is like expecting to know everything about how the world functions since we were born or being born supermodel. No wonder most people feel inadequate. We cannot figure out the impossible puzzle, which is often contradicting, impossible to reach or plain crazy. Needless to say that we are constantly failing, making bad decisions, which affect their emotions, health, finances, relationships and time spending.
As nobody is born knowing all things that we later desire, we acquire this from outside during our lifetime. We learn about it from our own senses, which are often misguided by marketing, which help to design products that make us feel better, often hiding some dark side effects that we have not realized yet. We learn about it from media, which tries to keep us updated of new trends and developments, but which is guided by self-interest, and is subject to constant change and misinterpretation. We learn about it from other people who are also guided by same wrong information. We are working towards something that we don’t really want, chasing a dream that that someone else told them that they should follow.
In fact we all tell each other about this dream, which in turn keeps on reinforcing itself. Only by waking up from this superficial life can we really make tangible and important changes that are overdue. To do so we need assess to correct information to understand what are the ways we were supposed to be living and which are the ways sold to us by marketing that while seemingly beneficial, are damaging or lives (and by the end of this book you will see that there are plenty).
What is Marketing
When financial markets crashed in 1929 due to product oversaturation, companies were looking for different ways keep on selling products to consumers that already had everything they needed. Politicians were also interested in helping companies to sell more, as they were concerned with creating additional workspace and progressive growth of GDP, which to them represented how good economy was doing. In upcoming years few changes were to come that helped to overcome this challenge and to transform world into what we know it to be today.
Firstly, markets around the world experienced progressive deregulation, which would guarantied that more types of products could be sold. And although governments restricted advertisement and commerce of some products, the progressive market evolution made it unpractical for government to stay on top of all changes. This in turn meant that now consumers had to rely on themselves to know what products they are suppose to buy and which they should not. Indeed, the lack of proper knowledge seems obvious when we consider how many products that we should not exist on the markets today, by all the problems like obesity, debt and depression that we see all around us today, and perhaps even more obviously by a subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 that was caused by, among other reasons, mass deregulation, which changed the world and affects our lives still today.
Secondly, technological advances made product fabrication more flexible, meaning that now companies can produce different types of products faster, better and cheaper. They were now able to change colors, shape and size of products in virtually every way requested by contractors. This brought an opportunity to create products that were unheard before, as well as to finally satisfy human desire to personalized items, which essentially created a new market where people could now express their unique personalities through consumption. Greater production flexibility also accelerated our sense of fashion, meaning that if we bought a t-shirt last summer, it would no longer be “cool” this summer, giving companies opportunities to reinvent fashion so often as they desire and keep on selling their products.
In addiction financial institution could now offer consumer credit, which allow consumers to get access to products that they could not previously afford, such as to own car, a house, a computer and a smart phone, allowing consumers to give one step further towards satisfaction of limitless desires on one side, but enslaving them to debts on the other.
Another big introduction was of planned obsolesce. While previously products were built to last for years, now products are purposefully designed to break before their natural expiry date. This reality is true to many product categories, such as we specially see with cars, computers, printers, light bolts, house furniture and pencils.
There were further expense in information expending technologies facilitators that brought about change of taste such as increase on marketing activities, which forever changed peoples tastes, desires and aspirations, as well as made them more impulsive towards new things they could now aspire.
Indeed, today markets are much bigger and more complex than just physical goods and services. Around every good or service exist other physical or non-physical activities that are designed to lead to additional sales, called marketing. It derives itself from a bigger study called psychology, which comes down to corporations trying to study human behavior and present themselves in the most attractive light possible in order to sell more.
Technology further promoted expense of marketing tools, which made it much more persuasive and intrusive in many ways. And while there are many people who are skeptical with marketing, we should not forget that in fact everything is marketing and we use it in their lives everyday, whether we are aware of it or not. We use marketing to sell ourselves, our ideas, to find partners, friends, and to stand out from the crowd. Like companies we are also brands, which is to say that everyone is a brand. You are a brand, I am a brand and so is everyone else. Everyone sells themselves everyday, all the time. The most obvious example of personal selling is when applying for a job, but we sell ourselves far more often then that. We market ourselves by the clothes we wear, by the cars we drive, by the ways we walk and talk, what we eat, and many more ways. In a conversation, for example, because we want to be understood and for our words to have some effect, we face people we are talking to, we use a loud enough voice, we pronounce the words, and we do many other gestures with the ultimate goal of successfully transmitting information, as otherwise we would not even open our mouth.
In this fashion most people are terrible brands. They use poor communication skills not realizing what they marketing, or being marketed, until its too late and they agreed to buy or sell something that they did not want. These people blame marketing for problems they have in their lives, while realistically they are just misinformed. Thus to end some confusion towards marketing we need to start by ending some of the biggest misconception, or marketing myth, that we have in our lives today:
Myth 1 – Markets are good and they are here to help
First such myth is if something is on the market is automatically good and necessary. In principle all products should be created towards improvement of human lives, but that’s not what we are seeing. There are plenty of well-established companies that hold more power that some governments of the world, selling “bad products”, which shouldn’t be consumed, products that cause health issues, which waste our time, money and energy, distract us from achieving our goals, and many others bad in many other ways.
Products exist today because there is demand for them. Logically, if there would not be any demand, these products would not exist. However, not all the products that exist today need to be consumed by everyone. Fast food, for example, is known to be cheaper and ready to be consumed, but it is also known to be unhealthy. It therefore could be right food in exceptional situations, but should not be consumed as much as it is. Even something as bad as cocaine can be good for someone out there, but it has become popular for all the wrong reasons. Of course the reverse is true as well. People are said to need to consume more of certain products like fruits and vegetables.
Indeed advertising is responsible for many of our incorrect habits, as it completely forgoes all ethical dimension of what is right and wrong and promotes all products in the same way with only goals of selling more irrespective of what it is. People are lured to use products without any additional information regarding whom this product should be for.
Some people will say that if a product is good it will sell itself. This may be true for exceptional products, but living in todays oversaturated and cluttered society there are many products that could benefit world that never see the light of the day while there are many businesses, that may not be so necessary, which are doing a lot of things right in terms of their marketing. They figured out how to sell their products efficiently and to make themselves part of our everyday life.
Perhaps that this is why bad organizations like ISIS are so popular. They are bad, and people know it. Still, their selling speech is well calibrated and tested over time. And while majority of people will never associate with them, a small amount of people will. This is why there is no permanent solution to ISIS. It will always exist in one form of another. Call it human nature.
No business wants to close their doors and proclaim itself a loser and all businesses are interested in making money, period. Indeed if a products can make money, there will be someone who will try to make money with it, legally or illegally. Sometimes businesses will not ask for money for us, at least immediately, they are ultimately all asking something else from us, whether it is time, attention or energy, which ultimately translates into money in one way or another. And while there are rare exceptions, most businesses will corrupt their soul as soon as money is concerned.
Take for example Google, which originally was only interested in helping people. After some time it ran into financial problems and had to start selling online ads and eventually become a public company. Since then it has been involved in several transactions that are less than benevolent (do I need to mention here which ones?).
Or take medical industry overall. Some people would consider it as one of the most benevolent institutions in the world as it is promotes life, health and wellbeing. While this may be the end result their activities, they are there to make money first. They are overselling sleep pills, anti depressants and all other sorts of products. Some specialists (source) sarcastically noted that medical companies are more interested in keeping people sick (source). There is a great saying stating that more hospitals were open because of someone’s ego than to benefit people (source).
Of course, there are “good products” out there, like charities, but we should not rush to give people behind those companies credit, as many of them are still interested in making personal profits and because there are no guarantees that they will spend their money well. Furthermore, often it just happens that companies are selling “good products”. If suddenly people could not work in same industry, there would be no guarantees that they would be still be selling benevolent products.
Indeed, businesses will try show themselves in the best light possible, promoting benefits of use of their products avoiding any possible criticism. Indeed, it is illegal to speak bad of certain brands in some parts of the world and many companies are lobbying law to their advantage to push up their sales, which result in the consumption mess that we are calling free markets.
Myth 2: Marketing doesn’t affect me
Often people tell me that marketing does not have an affect on them, because they are rational human beings in control of their decisions and their thoughts. To suggest that someone else is in control of our behavior without people noticing is unthinkable and yet, to a large extent, it is true.
The idea that marketing does not affect us is based on the understanding that people are rational and that they are in complete control of their own actions and decisions. If true, this would mean that peoples decisions are in line with peoples pre-determined desires and aspirations, and has nothing to do things like social pressure, new information, emotional state, and desire to try something new. Purely logical people would be equivalent to robots, machines pre-programmed to pursue perfection. People would therefore walk the path that they chose for themselves and are not led down others, making no use for the study of philosophy, psychology, marketing, leadership, business and many others, and therefore there would be no need for this book.
Demonstrating that a person is affected by marketing is easy, and can be done by answering the following questions: Do you wear branded cloths? Do you eat branded food? Do you drink branded beverages? Do you use any other brands in any other areas of your life? Chances are you will be able to come up with at least a dozen brands, proving once and for all that we are affected by marketing. If you can’t come up with any names though, I will predict that you don’t live in the “civilized” world and I would be curious to hear how you got your hands on this book, which is by the way also branded.
Moreover, marketing is $$$ billion dollar industry (source), with millions of marketing around the world studying consumer behavior in order to increase their sales, showing clear results of their effort. It is estimated that as a result of their activities, we are exposed to an average of 3000 ads every day (source), which is equivalent to seeing 1 new ad every 30 seconds or a million ads every year.
Indeed our idea that we can ignore ads efficiently comes from the inefficiency with which marketing deliver their ads. This is, most ads out there are not personally relevant to us. Despite billions of dollars spent in research and development of the products, markers still don’t know what products and ads will have effect, but they are marketing all the same. There are a lot of products that companies bring to the market that never get consumed. Companies get access to marketing budgets, which they have to spend whether there is something to promote, or not. There are millions of products and brands that are not sure whether we are right target group for them, but they try to see if we are available or to steal us away from competitions. All in all the advertising waste is what we are so proud of when we say we can ignore ads efficiently. However, when a product is relevant to us and is marketed well, we don’t even notice the influence that this ad is having over us. We perceive this ad to be the right information we were searching for and let it become part of long list of things that we want to have in our life. This is, even if 1% of their ads have effect we end up influenced by 30 ads per day, which over a while accumulates into a great deal of influence, changing our believes, desires and essentially who we are as people.
Myth 3 – Marketing Manipulates You
Opposite to “we are not affected” is a view that marketing indeed affects us and makes people do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do and therefore it is an evil form of manipulation that should be forbidden, as only bad people practice it.
To say that someone manipulated us is equal to saying that another person gave us no choice but to act in a certain way. It is to put responsibility in other people’s hands and to play the victim. So unless you have a gun to your head, or you are hypnotized, or your boss is telling you to do something or else you’ll be fired, we will not consider that this as an act of manipulation. Additionally, normal markets incentives are usually “lighter”.
The truth of the matter is that nobody can really convince us to do anything that we would not want to do on some level. Even in the example of hypnotism, it is said that anything that they do not have a pre-disposition to do, no matter how good the hypnotist is.
To claim that marketing is manipulating us is equivalent to saying that all money is evil or that psychologists cannot read our minds. Money is indeed responsible for many acts of evil, but in a similar way it is used to create a lot of good too, so money is neutral. Psychologists, on the other side make behavior-based generalization that to inexperienced people may sound like mind reading. In this way marketing is neutral too, as it has brought a lot of good, but also it has created a lot of negative behavior that will be explored throughout this book.
To put it more broadly, in today’s society, marketers do not need to manipulate people. Rather it is easier and more efficient to suggest to a large group of people to buy a certain product. Some people will buy it and others won’t. The marketers job is only to make sure more people do. In a campaign shown to 1 million people is 1000 buys this product (1% convergence) it may be already good enough for the marketers and their job in this case to make 2% of people buy a product. It is a numbers game, nothing personal.
We could claim that we were tricked into a certain behavior, which happens when people promise to do one thing and deliver something else. I still do not consider this to be manipulation. For one people are often working within the realm of subjective experience meaning that they connect certain expectations, emotions and imagination to their desired experience, which in the real life they experience in completely different way. Living in a world of service, experience is indeed a subjective term, whereas even in most luxurious places on the planet some people will be unhappy with the service.
Moreover, it is true that sellers are known to hold more information about their product than the buyers (there is a term for that), but there is no such thing as perfect information. People can try to misguide us and even cheat us, but in the end it is our responsibility to be ready for these situations. We are responsible for making correct decision and continuously studying to make good decisions. Indeed, there are entire industries that play with people’s lack of information of information, products that nobody in their right mind would buy, industries like drugs, alcohol and gambling, but as we know very well these industries are thriving.
Myth 4 – Life Without Marketing
Due to high levels of marketing skepticism, one logical solution would be to reject it completely from our lives, but rejecting marketing 100% is impossible, nor it recommendable. Sao Paolo, Brazil & Cuba are two places where street marketing are not allowed and they are also known to make the city look dull. Indeed marketing makes things to a certain extent statically pleasing, even if the pleasure is superficial and contributing to a social dream.
Moreover, rejecting marketing would mean to become a rebel, a society outcast, or an anarchist. It would mean to take an easy way out, meaning that problems will always exist in some form or another and we cannot simply be rejecting everything that is wrong with the world.
But even if we considered removing all that is marketing from our lives. It has became such an important and integral part of our lives that getting rid of it would mean to change society as a whole. Specifically, we would have to move away from Capitalistic model and to discover a superior model of organizing masses. We may hate it, it may be influencing our life in many ways that may not be ideal, but we need it and it is here to stay.
Perhaps a reason why people feel like they want to getting rid of marketing is because they don’t like the negative influence it brings, but as we already saw that marketing is neutral, meaning that we still like the positives. A great solution would therefore be to learn to protect themselves against the negatives of marketing, which is not equal to learning how marketing works. This is to say that some people would imagine that marketers are immune to marketing messages, because they make advertisements. The truth is that they are influenced as much as anyone else. This is because they are also experts on selling, but they are not experts on stopping buying. This finally makes sense. They advertise for the same reasons anyone else works, to make money, to pay their bills, to buy stuff and to live social dream. Essentially, marketers know and understand other people’s skepticism, because they are also affected.
The solution is not far, though. I was hinting at it for a while and it comes with a few correct insights, meaning that we need to get informed on what does it mean not to buy. More specifically, we need to learn how to live in a society where everything is on sale, but where we have limited resources and not everything is good for us.
Duality of life
To this point we already explored several contradiction, such as whether marketing is bad or good and whether some products are good for us or bad, but there is more.
I often see people doing something I don’t understand, but I always know that to them there is probably a good reason why are doing it.
For example, there are atheists who don’t believe in God, people who believe in different religions and agnostic view proposes that while no one can be certain, because no managed to prove either way. Who is right?
Moreover, for a long time I did not understand meditation, while many people were practicing it. They saw clear benefits in this practice, while many others, like me, did not. Overall, if we don’t know, understand or practice something today, while there are millions of people who do, it is likely that other people see certain benefits or truths, unknown to us today, which could be interesting for us to explore. In this respect, it is interesting to challenge our assumptions by studying things that we don’t quite understand or plain disagree with, as by looking at the other side of a coin, we can learn new truths.
In this respect I like statement that claims that every argument sounds great until we hear the other side (reference). I often hear people being very opinioned about certain point of view, completely unaware of the opposite side of view. What they say makes sense until it is challenged and suddenly it does not make sense. So can the opposite be true too? Often it is, but to a certain point. Radical points of view are mostly incorrect. There are always two sides to everything, and there is always balance like yin-and-yang. And while there are some things that seem obvious like don’t killing and don’t do drugs, in some specific occasions and to some people these views will make sense.
The solution is, of course, is to do both, to be our own devils advocate, to be able to argue both sides of our own views, as until then all our believes are baseless, uninformed and often wrong. A true mastery comes only when we are able to accept and reject certain views at the same time.
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This post was written by Roman