April 9, 2014

On Being MIA and the Power of Marketing

My goodness! Not sure if I have any readers left after such a long absence. My apologies to all...I had no idea it has been that long since I have posted to my blog. 


I was looking at my personal library recently and one of the books, Future Shock (1970) by futurist Alvin Toffler, was yelling at me to have another look. In a 2007 blog post on that book I noted that his premise was that "there are limits to the amount of change that humans can absorb without being overwhelmed, both physiologically and psychologically. The state such an over-stimulation creates what is Toffler coined 'future shock'. The future, Toffler wrote, will present the super-industrial citizen with a paralyzing dilemma: overchoice". 

One of the primary coping solutions Tofflers suggested we would adopt is to identify with subcults reflecting our lifestyle (or rather the lifestyle we desire to reflect) and we would consume the products and the values of that preferred lifestyle. 

The promise of a lifestyle (and its associated status, benefits, identity, etc. ) lies at the heart of branding campaigns and advertising by marketers. The tactics used are both clever and insidious. Marketers desperately want to figure out what subcult (a.k.a. "segment") each of us belongs to so they can target us with "personalized" and "customized" products to fit our self-proclaimed lifestyles.  

Even if you are the kind who frets at night about the NSA and take to having tinfoil on your head, the sophistication and delivery of contemporary marketing is astonishing. 

Let's consider the very literal example of overchoice, the typical Canadian or American gaocery store. According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average number of items carried in a supermarket in 2012 was 42,686. Let that figure settle in your gray matter for a moment. If you think about the history of food (or even how food is protrayed [rightly or wrongly]in period/fantasy pop culture TV and film (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rome, etc.) you get the impression that folks pretty much had about 10 main ingredients (not counting herbs and spices) for all of their meals combined. There was meat from livestock of course, and it seems like we would have had some grains and vegetables at lunch or supper. Fruit was mostly limited to actual fruit-growing regions, before the advent of the great trading companies that sailed the seas and trampled continents as empires stretched across the globe. But really, give or take based on one's class, even 10 items seems generous. 

So we fast-forward to 2012 with that mythical average citizen standing in the average supermarket, pondering 42,686 products. What's an average person to do? Here's where the brilliant/terrifying psychology of "loyalty" comes into play, and how understanding what subcult (based on a wild array of metrics such as age, race, income, address, spending patterns, credit score, etc.) you appear to belong to (based on your past behaviours) will determine what you buy, why you buy, when you buy, and how much you spend and on which products. The marketer's dream is to align thousands of the right customers to a  private label.

In Canada, Sobeys has partnered with celebrity UK chef Jaimie Oliver to create a branded collection of products within the Sobeys shopping experience. The in-store branding tag for the Oliver products line is "Eat better. Feel better. Do better", which builds on Sobeys' brand statement "better food for all". The product line itself employs the tag "keep it simple" and includes not just branded food items but also tableware, tea towels, cookbooks, cutting boards, cheese boards and more. It's an integrated product line that reflects Oliver's affable, homespun, DIY brand. So, with a few key purchases, you too can be just like Jaime Oliver, make some delicious food, and be a great home cook (or chef, depending on your aspirations). And, if you go the next step of getting the Sobeys Card (why yes, please come on in and look around my brain, take whatever you need) you can then be offered discounts of future purchases of Jaimie Oliver products, as you fall into the vortex of the SMMCA (self-fullfilling marketing mind control apparatus). 

And here's the rub: they won. I knew what it was. I saw the strings of the puppet master. I knew I was being manipulated. And yet, darn them all, I bought the stuff. That's the brain for ya, consciously missing in action.

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