A few days ago, an acquaintance gave me a link to a public service announcement that had been uploaded to YouTube.
The theme of the video was sexual abuse/incest. The contents were shocking and repulsive. It included a father toasting to the union of his daughter and son-in-law while cracking jokes about her physical prowess. The daughter sat idly by, enjoying herself and smiling all the way through.
After I finished watching the video, I couldn’t help but wonder about the marketing behind it. What struck me most about it was that it aimed to scrape the barrel of humanity in the hopes of inspiring an evolved outlook in viewers.
Although it was an extreme example, it got me thinking about emotional marketing and the way that some businesses choose to use negative emotions to incite positive actions in prospects. At least, it would be a positive action for the business- a sale.
Using shock, fear, horror, guilt, anxiety and other negative emotions to move a product isn’t a new idea in marketing. But I think the expectation that others will recognize negative propositions from businesses as invitations towards an implied positive outcome is.
Nowadays, there’s a more focused effort on “ethical” business practices. If they’re not driven by conscience, then it’s legality. But it’s amazing to me how some people think that “ethics” is a nebulous concept- at least in the world of marketing.
I’m convinced that in business, there’s no better place than the marketing area to ask the question “Does the end justify the means?”
Consider a study that The Responsible Marketing Blog commented on. The study experimented with ads containing thin and average-sized women. It found that women felt badly about themselves when the ads with thin women aired, but they bought the products associated with them. In contrast, when women were shown the ads with average-sized women, they felt more at ease, but didn’t run out to buy the products. I don’t really have to tell you which ads would be more desirable to marketers.
The author asked two questions at the end of the post: “Is it ethical?” and “Is it Responsible Marketing?” It’s interesting to me that both questions were posed, simply because both could beg different responses. On the one hand, no, it’s not ethical to manipulate people’s emotions for the sake of a selfish goal. But marketers may consider it “responsible marketing”- maybe even the only type of marketing there is- because it can be the best way to encourage sales. By pulling people’s heartstrings, they’re doing all they can to live up to the responsibility of bringing in as many conversions as possible.
I’m fascinated by the idea that marketing experts often use the word “triggers” to describe what marketers do to get prospects to respond. This is probably because therapists use the same term to describe anything that elicits a terrible memory (and, possibly, a negative response) in patients recovering from trauma.
Philip Kotler’s statement,
We are not in a state of competition anymore; we’re in a state of hyper-competition. So people are desperately looking for handles- functional features, emotional appeals- that will draw people to their product
raises some interesting questions for me. The marketing consultant admits frenetic competition resulting in desperation, which in turn leads to marketers playing with emotions…the virtual sucker-punch. But is it really our right, as marketers or not, to exploit basic biology and quantify the very things that make us human? By doing so, we’d be reducing the human experience to numbers…sales and profits.
Obviously, I’m not speaking about all emotional marketing. All marketing, in some form or another, uses emotion to get points across. What I am talking about is that lowest form of marketing- the type that aims to emotionally break down prospects for the sake of making them customers. The companies, of course, aim to build them up again and make everything all right with their products. The worst of them attempt to turn the experience into a cycle, tearing customers down, building them up and tearing them down again, each time offering a “solution” that was better than the last. Those companies would no doubt say that their customers were “loyal” and not the victims of unscrupulous marketing practices…
What’s your take on this? It’s a complicated matter for sure, but I’m sure it’s one that many have given thoughts to, whether passing or not. Where do you draw the line with your marketing practices?