An Interesting Question to Ask When You Market a New Product
It helped make cigarettes a status symbol, so what can we learn from it?
“How do we get people to want something they don’t need?”
This question is what birthed modern marketing, and it’s still the vital question every modern marketing campaign needs to answer to see success.
Yes, finding the answer to this question does come with a side-effect of queasiness in the bowels. It’s tough to face that question and feel good about it at the same time. But if your product has no roof, doesn’t come from a farm, or isn’t a new friend, it’s something we don’t need.
But we can’t just throw our hands up and jump off the entrepreneurial wagon. So the trick then is to take that question and try to answer it as ethically as possible. Let’s figure out how.
You can have a smoke, but not my wife
Edward Bernays was one of the first people to find the answer to the vital question. He used the answer to try and make cigarettes cool. Spoiler alert, he succeeded big time and even convinced people smoking was healthy.
But there’s a catch. Behind closed doors, he would get visibly upset when his wife would indulge in the craze he created. It even got to the point where he took each individual cigarette his wife had stashed and flushed them down the toilet.
Why? Because he knew cigarettes were bad. Studies on the side-effects of tobacco were popping up and he was quite aware of the results.
His wife smoking filled him with fear, but he gladly stuffed cigarettes down the throat of America.
When building a product and planning out a marketing campaign, ask yourself if you’d want your loved ones to use your product. If not, that’s definitely a warning sign.
Fitness experts need to make money somehow
Whenever I’ve found the motivation to start going to the gym and lifting weights, the information online always stopped me in my tracks. Different experts all said different things and contradicted one another, and I suffered from analysis paralysis.
Every time I started a new workout plan, I’d always doubt if I was doing the right things.
A couple of years ago, I traveled to Japan and was blown away by their fitness culture. I saw no gyms in sight and no overweight people. How could this be? After taking the time to research, I found a maddeningly simple fact. Being fit requires you to eat moderately good food, be outside, have a passion to pursue, and walk a lot.
Yet in North America, there are tons of experts saying we all need to do this and do that to be healthy. And when you think about it, there’s one reason why. The fitness industry is booming, and influencers can only stand out by differentiating themselves somehow.
We can connect this to the self-help world. We all know most of the advice is the same. The main difference in the articles you read, the courses you buy, and the books you read is the unique perspective of who’s making the content.
Since the information is widely available for free, their unique perspective is how they get us to purchase something we don’t necessarily need.
I’ve bought two courses that promised to teach me how to create a freelance writing career. Both had very similar advice, but I only fully immersed myself in one of them.
I found a ton of value in the unique perspective this coach brought to the table, and I was able to connect with them in a personal way. They also put a ton of effort into being easily accessible for me.
If our product isn’t truly original or groundbreaking, this is how we stand out. Through going above and beyond for our audience when others won’t.
Transparency is your secret weapon
I like hiking. There are many good brands to choose from when buying gear, but it always feels best to spend money on Patagonia. They're more expensive, but wearing Patagonia helps me build the identity I want to have.
Why? Well, because they do a lot for the environment. How do I know this is true and not a false marketing tactic? The owner wrote a book about it, and I decided to trust it.
There was a survey done that found a lot of people make their decisions just like how I prefer to buy Patagonia. To be associated with a well-known ethical product is to be ethical as well. And the only way to get people to trust your ethical standard as a brand is to be as transparent as possible.
I recently read Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. There is a dark side to the company but Knight tried his best to explain why his foreign employees work in the condition they do. It came across as sincere to me, and it grew my admiration for the company.
I bought a pair of Cortez’s recently. It was my first purchase from Nike in years. Knight’s transparency motivated me to do so.
The ethical debate is a slippery slope. You can point out the specific unethical aspects of brands and marketers, but then you’d have to point out the unethical aspects of capitalism itself. We all are affected by it, but what we can do is be as transparent as possible with our actions.
It’s simple. Be transparent. It builds trust.
Edward Bernays’ most successful tactic when it came to marketing cigarettes was starting the freedom torches march.
Cigarettes up until then were mainly seen as a man’s past-time, and Bernays allowed women to rebel against that idea. Tobacco became a torch of freedom and it empowered women across the country. Bernays turned a harmful product that people definitely didn’t need into a symbol of equality.
If Bernays knew about the harmful side effects of tobacco, then many others must have known as well. But since smoking became a way to fight patriarchy, how could people not join in?
Obviously, there’s no way smoking will ever be justified with what we know today in modern marketing. But from the example, here’s a new rendition of the vital question all marketing campaign’s need to answer:
“How do we get people to justify wanting something they don’t need?”
And our takeaways on how to answer the question as ethically as possible:
- Make a product you’d want your loved ones to use.
- Serve your audience and make a personal connection with them. This will help make your product stand out.
- Work to be transparent about business practices in order to build trust.