You’ve probably never heard of TestingMom.com. It’s part of a new generation of test-prep companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review –– except this one is for toddlers. Competition for slots in kindergarten has gotten so intense that some parents are shelling out thousands to get their four-year olds ready for entrance tests or interviews. It’s just one more example of the pressure that got celebrity parents arrested for falsifying college applications a few years ago. In this case the battle is over getting into elite elementary schools or gifted programs. While such admissions pressure is widely known, what’s new is how early it’s occurring. Equity issues aside, the demand to improve performance is being drilled into youngsters before they can spell their names. All of this bespeaks the competition for grades, school placement, and eventual careers that has transformed the normal impulse to do better into an obsession for students and their families. Much like the drive for perfection, an insatiable hunger to be quicker, smarter, and more acceptable to admissions officers is taking its toll in many ways.
What explains this obsessive behavior? Brain science has been proving what advertising long has known –– that wanting something is far more powerful than getting it. School admissions and other markers of success are part of an overarching mental wanting mechanism. That new iPhone might bring a thrill. But soon comes the yearning for an update, a newer model, another purchase. Neuroimaging shows that processes of “wanting” and “liking” occur in different parts of the brain, with the former more broadly and powerfully operating than the latter. This reverses the common wisdom that primal hungers and “drives” underlie human motivation. Unlike animals, the motor force driving human beings is imagination –– with anticipation of something more important than the experience itself. This partly explains why merchandizing deals more with feeling than facts. Slogans like “Just Do It” and “Think Different” bear no direct relationship to shoes or computers, but instead tingle feelings of desire. In the fuzzy realm emotion pleasure is a fungible currency.
“Yes You Can,” (Sprint), “Be All that You Can Be” (U.S. Army), “Because You’re Worth it,” (L’Oréal) in “Your World, Delivered” (AT&T). You’ve seen these new ads: pitches for products or services to let you “be yourself” or “take control” of some aspect of your life. It’s a new strategy called “empowerment marketing,” based on the premise that in media savvy age people are smarter about advertising and need to be approached in a way that flatters their evolved sensibilities. As a recent feature in Your Business put it, “Traditional marketing depends on creating anxiety in the customer in convincing her that she has a need that only the product or service sold can help her fill.” In contrast, “Empowerment marketing subverts traditional marketing techniques by recasting the consumer as the hero who has the power to effect change and use the product or service being sold to achieve success.”[i]
Nice as this sounds, it is really a case of putting old wine in new bottles. The example Your Business uses is the familiar Nike “Just Do it” campaign, which doesn’t so much promote a certain shoe as much as “the message that anyone can be an athlete if they’re willing to work hard.”[ii] And indeed, this is exactly the message that appears on the first page of Nike’s current website: “Your daily motivation with the latest gear, most effective workouts and the inspiration you need to test your limits––and unleash your potential” with a fashion item lower on the page captioned “Dress like a champion.”[iii] In other words, the new empowerment advertising doesn’t really forgo conventional appeals to consumer anxiety. It simply personalizes the pitch with the lure of enhanced autonomy. The Nike ad itself sums up this contradiction perfectly in stating: “Life isn’t about finding your limits. It’s about realizing you have none.”[iv]
The backlash against sexual imagery in the media is gathering steam as feminists and child-protection experts make common cause with conservatives, religious groups and, yes, the Daily Mail to decry what they see as degrading attitudes to women.
A British marketing consultation firm recently ran the below story warning companies to back off on “sex sells” thinking.
“From the Prime Minister’s online porn clampdown, announced last week, to the continuing campaigns against lads’ mags and The Sun’s Page 3 models, UK media is on notice that the gratuitous use of raunchy images is becoming unacceptable.
“David Cameron’s plan for ISPs to automatically activate filters, which users would have to turn off to access porn, sounds to many people like a sensible balance between protecting children from inappropriate material and respecting adults’ rights – and any move designed to tackle child sexual exploitation is widely applauded. But some worry that adult sexuality and child abuse are being deliberately lumped together to promote repressive and prudish attitudes to sex.
“The issue is riven with contradictions. Cameron was somewhat at a loss last week to explain why The Sun’s “tit pics” – widely seen by children across the country – are acceptable when online porn is not. However, his reply that buying the newspaper is a free consumer choice might have something to it. The Sun’s circulation has fallen by 40 per cent over the past decade to 2.25 million, arguably a reflection of the growing distaste for a publication that uses breasts to promote itself. Continue reading “Sex sells? Think again”
We all are exposed to traditional and typical advertising and marketing messages every day, for everything from food to fragrances to banking to many other products and services we consume on a regular basis.
However, sometimes companies with the most powerful brands in the world take their marketing messages a step further and align them with a cause, which can be incredibly beneficial to society, reports Huffington Post Gay Voices.
“When done properly, cause marketing can change the world and help to move that cause in a positive direction, whether it is health-related, environmental, humanitarian, or social in nature.
“We are currently seeing a positive example of cause marketing by Office Depot, a leading national retailer, who has dedicated its back-to-school effort for the second consecutive year to raising awareness for anti-bullying as it specifically relates to parents, teachers, and students. The company has recently launched a campaign with worldwide music phenomenon One Direction, coinciding with their U.S. summer tour. The theme of the campaign is “1D + OD Together Against Bullying,” and has been designed to raise awareness for anti-bullying, culminating in educational programs beginning this Fall in schools across America.
“By embracing the anti-bullying cause, Office Depot is aiming to create more positive environments for three of its key consumers. First, they want to enable teachers to have more positive classroom and teaching experiences. No one can deny that teaching is a tough profession. Reducing and possibly eliminating bullying at school will take one more stress factor off of teachers’ already full plates. Continue reading “The case for cause marketing”
McDonald’s Corp. Chief Executive Don Thompson, presiding over his first annual shareholders meeting since taking the helm of the fast-food chain last summer, defended the company’s efforts to market to children, reports the Wall Street Journal
“Several speakers associated with Corporate Accountability International, a nonprofit corporate watchdog that put forward a proposal calling on McDonald’s to conduct an assessment of its nutrition initiatives, accused the company of contributing to the country’s obesity problem by targeting children, particularly minorities. McDonald’s CEO defended mascot Ronald McDonald, saying the fast-food chain isn’t the cause of obesity.Mr. Thompson, McDonald’s first African-American chief executive, said the criticism hits close to home and staunchly defended McDonald’s marketing practices.
“We are not the cause of obesity. Ronald is not a bad guy,” Mr. Thompson said Thursday “He’s about fun. He’s a clown. I’d urge you all to let your kids have fun, too.” Continue reading “Defending Ronald”
It seems that this year’s omnivorous expansion of “Christmas” isn’t quite enough. A national decline in church attendance, the struggling economy and the challenges of converting millennials have all led to a new movement to market God.
Apparently, The U.S. is witnessing a wave of experimentation by evangelicals to reinvent “church” in an increasingly secular culture. The mega-church boom of recent decades is winding down, along with it’s trappings of stadium seating, Jumbotrons and smoke machines. So churches are trying new tricks.
As reported in today’s New York Times, “’It’s unsettling for a movement that’s lasted 2,000 years to now find that, ‘Oh, some of the things we always assumed would connect with the community aren’t connecting with everyone in the community in the way they used to,’ ” said Warren Bird, the director of research for the Leadership Network, a firm that tracks church trends. Continue reading “Stepping up the marketing of God”