Brain Sells cures the sick?

Shaman: "a priest or priestess who uses magic for the purpose of curing the sick, divining the hidden, and controlling events." (Merriam-Webster)

In a recent Marketing Daily article, Karl Greenberg explores how people make shopping decisions when confronted with many options. One common technique is to categorize: "I'll only look at shoes under $60." This weeds out all decision-making about shoes costing more than $60, thereby easing the process.

"Through you I become more of me"
According to the article, however, shopping isn't just a logic-driven collecting of products or brands. As Greenberg puts it, shopping is "a spasm of sentiment." Cognitive anthropologist and founder of Brain Sells, Dr. Robert Deutsch, agrees:

"There is no such thing as product loyalty; that's commodity-based. Attachment [to a product or brand] leads to self-loyalty. It looks like product loyalty, but it's not; it's 'through you I become more of me.'"

Duetsch believes shopping is about boosting my identity. This is more than shopping to feel good or to make a statement. It's actually about helping me to become more of me. Pretty strong claim, eh? Do you see why he goes on to conclude, "Great marketers are therefore shamans"? Marketing shamans help me become more my self.


Becoming human
Surveys show that plenty of consumers buy cars to express themselves. I'm guilty of this, and I don't really mind that my '91 Toyota pick-up says something about me. But this isn't the same as me becoming more me, is it? Can a truck really cure my sickness? A biblical approach says no. We become more human - more uniquely ourselves - as we learn to receive love and give love in return, not as we buy stuff.

I do shop to boost my identity from time to time, or at least to express myself to the world, but it usually happens when love is missing in some way. Ad-critic Jean Kilbourne says that "people who feel empty make great consumers." Insecurity and selfishness (a symptom of insecurity) correlate strongly with my tendency to settle for trifle solutions.

Deutsch, seemingly on the other hand, sees "brand attachment as the yellow brick road...a journey I [the consumer] make with you [the brand] that fills out what's already latent in me." I'm glad for the joy we experience through products and brands, but my sickness needs more than a Brand-Aid.

(Couldn't resist.)

Read my related interview with Lovemarks creator, Kevin Roberts, on the brands we can't live without.


Coke's "Encounter": Viewing commercials as mini-movies

"Encounter" is a movie. It looks like a Coca-Cola commercial by McCann Erickson of Madrid, and it's only one minute and thirty seconds long, but it's still a movie. Just smaller.

Like their larger cousins, mini-movies have characters, settings, problems and solutions. I wrote about "Encounter" at Catapult Magazine, specifically addressing the character played by music.

Here's the mini-article with links to the mini-movie. (Note: Mute it the first time. Then watch it a second or third time cranked.)


IKEA's Freedom: If it costs less, you can work less

I've had this type of job - the kind I couldn't wait to discard. My relationship with it was tense because I wanted out but had to stay; I wanted more meaning but it was in the way.

So I acted like I do when I sulk. I stayed mad instead of proactive. I crossed my arms instead of exercising creativity. Neither of us were better for it.

The wife's embrace suggests that maybe he should be working less, but that doesn't remedy the problem at hand. When work is a means to a consumptive end, then leaving the office at 3:02 p.m. elicits celebration and teary-eyed relief. But when I give through work, and express through work, and worship through work - even hard work - then I enjoy it. It becomes bearable and I even begin to see the difference I make in the world.

I get IKEA's point about sale prices. But what employee can sustain a work view like that?

Welcome to life outside - and inside - work.


Anti- or Pro-perspirant? Insecurity in advertising

Are you anti- or pro-perspirant?

I sat in a wilderness medicine class recently with colleagues, discussing the symptoms and treatment of shock. Shock is a potentially life-threatening result of dramatic changes in the blood system (heart failure, volume loss, vessel dilation, etc.). But it comes in mild forms, too, like nervous sweating.

Nervous sweating is a form of psychogenic shock. You won't die from psychogenic shock, of course, though it may feel that way. Psychogenic shock occurs when you're about to give a public talk, or just before you enter an interview. Your vessels dilate, making your blood pressure drop, making you lose oxygen, making you breath faster, making your heart beat faster, making you light-headed and - publicly worst of all - making you sweat.

All quite natural. But not acceptable.

According to a recent NY Times article, despite the economic decline, "major deodorant brands are actually experiencing a bump in sales, thanks to recent introductions of stronger 'clinical' formulations." Why, as companies introduce stronger "clinical" anti-perspirants, are we buying them up? Because it isn't acceptable to show fear, and we'll do anything to hide it.

Nervous sweat discloses fear. Sweaty armpits reveal insecurity. We're afraid of public speaking because we're afraid of rejection.

Human beings need to be loved, so much so that our bodies respond systemically to the threat of rejection. Advertisers know about these insecurities and I'm glad they promote a relatively inexpensive coping mechanism. But you can't live forever coping. The best treatment for any type of shock is to follow the symptoms to the cause. Anti-perspirants deal with a symptom, but they don't treat the cause.

This week, think about this seemingly harmless product. See it as an excuse to explore deeper issues like trust, insecurity and the failure to believe you are loved. If you find yourself here, I'd like to say, Don't sweat it. Then again, maybe you should. ;)


Confession: I was a vocational isolationist

"Reflecting on the state literature in communist Russia, Leon Trotsky said that the problem wasn't that Russia lacked enough good writers, but that there were not enough good Russian "communist" writers. In other words, few writers were so steeped in the communist world view that their literature naturally and integrally breathed communism. We could say the same thing about the body of Christ today."

- Brian Walsh, "Christian + University = ?"

I came across Brian's article many years ago and it had a memorable influence on my work. It's clear, relevant, and helpful. The primary audience is students in the university, but...but, it applies directly to anyone with a job. I mean that. Check it out and see how it connects to your situation.

According to Brian, people practice one of the following:

  1. Isolation = We separate faith from studies/work.
  2. Accommodation = We alter faith to fit studies/work.
  3. Abandonment = We replace faith with studies/work.
  4. Integration = We weave faith and studies/work.

Read the article. Then pick the practice that describes you. Then tell us if you've shifted over the years. (In college I practiced isolation big time. Now I don' much.)

Note: Voting is anonymous and will not take you to another website.

Survey Results -


Visa and Johnnie Walker: Guidance counselors

"Let's Go" by Visa feels like a combo of the two Johnnie Walker spots I showed here and here. Similar thematic elements: calling, doing something with your life, change, progress, adventure, becoming somebody. Morgan Freeman even asks, "Will you walk out the door and go left instead of right?" Sounds like the crossroads question to me.

"Let's Go" sits better in my conscience than JW's "Crossroads." Maybe because Freeman promotes a bit of goodwill, while the "Crossroads" character lives in a rather self-centered universe. Or maybe because Visa's sun shines friendlier. Or maybe because Visa features hope, while JW, thrill. Not sure.

It doesn't matter much. Hope and thrill and progress and goodwill aside, both brands increase their perceived value by associating unnaturally with human longings. That's my issue. It works like vicarious fame: if I name-drop famous connections - tell you I met a star, stood in the elevator with a world-changer, studied under a genius - your perceived value of me increases. I'm not really more famous or more valuable, but it feels that way.

Ironically, it doesn't matter much that we know these products can't actually fulfill our human longings. Who would rationalize that Visa or JW can add success to a curriculum vitae, or provide a life of adventure otherwise unattainable? Yet Visa and JW bet that we'll try anyway.

We need better guidance counselors.


Johnnie Walker's Calling

This commercial - for scotch whiskey, believe it or not - gives my title's apostrophe two meanings.

"Johnnie Walker's calling"
First, it means the calling of Johnnie Walker. You - the Johnnie Walker here - reflect on the calling of your life. You look at the dangers and calculate which path is best. It's fear-based because you want to avoid probable ruin. But suddenly you make a switch and in the darkness, when nothing can be seen, you dismiss fear and choose the unknown. You flag down a car driven by who knows who and going who knows where, and what's the basis for your response?

"Would I be able to spend all time, eternity, in the safety of a place without promise of a thrill?"
Immortality showed up in my last Johnnie Walker post, too. Why does he worry about "all time, eternity"?

  • Extra credit: For the imaginative types out there, go to second :42. What's in the officer's mouth and what does it mean? Could it represent the loud voice of naysayers: "You can't do it! You won't succeed!"? I'm stuck on this.

"Johnnie Walker is calling"
Second, JW does the calling. Of course, now I'm referring to Johnnie Walker the whiskey, not the man. After all, this commercial is about whiskey. Most of us like progress, thrill and adventure, even if we sit in cubicles all day. Ad agency, Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, knows this, and it associates thrill so closely with JW (the whiskey) that JW seems to be the one calling. Adventure, moving forward, thrill..., these become JW's alluring characteristics. BBH would never want you to experience boredom drinking JW.

OK, I've said enough. What do you think?


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