Updated: Aug 19, 2020
The insidious side to marketing.
I have always been impressed with marketing. The fusion of information with art particularly tailored or designed around a particular target in order to persuade an otherwise uninterested customer to buy your product, or to entice customers to return, is almost magical. And equally impressive is seeing the difference between good and bad marketing campaigns played out in their effects on returns.
Creative marketing, as properly understood by businesspeople, is an investment and generally speaking, a lucrative one at that. Strong marketing can oftentimes provide the competitive advantage to one company over an otherwise equal competitor.
A black and white page of statistics and numbers, or value propositions, or product descriptions is not likely to get the time of day from busy people. Add a splash of color, resize important key points, or frame your pitch with a smiling family as the backdrop, and people will gravitate to your message.
We’ve all experienced the subtleties of clever marketing tricks; consider choosing between window cleaners at the store—a brand like Windex, despite being slightly more expensive, will tend to sell more than the generic store-created brand. Beyond the power of brand name recognition, the flashy marketing attracts the eye faster than it's counterpart—and in a competition between the two, a cocktail of dopamine and serotonin decides the winner. It’s all psychological.
So when businesses choose to employ capital and produce a successful marketing campaign, everybody wins, as long as the business keeps promises; the business grows, the happy customer returns, and the marketer keeps his lights on. And most importantly, both the risk and return of the marketing investment are carried by the business. And those would-be customers who don’t buy into the campaign don’t have to purchase the products they are pitched.
Marketing, like all tools, can be used constructively to further prosperity. But there’s an insidious side to the effectiveness of marketing and when employed by the wrong people for the wrong reasons, the damage can be excessive.
As if we were unable to live or function without our fearless political leaders keeping us abreast of all the goings on (but only as it relates to coronavirus or the election), my local government in Miami Beach has spent the last six months normalizing a now-daily communication about the coronavirus and more—which, interestingly enough, has shifted in the recent weeks from alarmism to activism in reminding its funders to be good (compliant) citizens and also to be sure to mail in their vote.
The daily emails sent by the city in an effort to ever increase its relevance is a full-blown marketing campaign. From the stylish art with the “mask up!” message, to the flashy green coronavirus banner, all the way to a minute-long video montage of good citizens in masks tugging at your heart strings or the mayor clearly enjoying the increased media attention—the government has made the most of the panic and inserted themselves into our daily lives using the persuasion of good marketing. And it is good marketing!
Yet, the front-and-center reminder that failure to comply with the marketed message will result in the force of a fine betrays the entire game. Private enterprise doesn’t back up their marketing with “or else.”
What’s the difference?
When government officials use marketing, the public carries the risk and reward—generally an ideological shift although ideas are held by private individuals; when government officials use marketing, the consumer doesn’t have a choice in buying the pitch—the pitch that he pays for; when government officials use marketing, you pay to persuade yourself and others of something you do not believe.
So here’s the end result: public servants are employing public funds, choosing one marketing specialist over another to use marketing tactics to persuade the public of ideas or policies that the public may or may not agree with. In other words, when government employs marketing in favor of one idea over another, you have no choice but to fund a campaign designed to alter your thinking—whether or not you agree.
There is a fine line between marketing and propaganda and the line is at the funding source. Taxpayer-funded marketing is nothing more than one-sided state propaganda.