Is marketing….evil?

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I saw some sponsored content by a widely-used website building company. The blog was about how to use persuasion science in your marketing techniques – aka ‘neuromarketing’ and pretty much everyone responded with “but that’s evil! Here’s a marketing strategy for you – if you have a good product then people will want to buy it, focus on making the product good and you won’t need to manipulate people into buying from you.”

And so I couldn’t help but wonder…. am I evil for trying to convince people to buy stuff? Little old me?

Build it and they will come?

Sadly, sometimes it is really hard to get products or services to sell. Even if they’re great products. People don’t just go out of business because they failed to have a great product. We all know that lovely little boutique or deli that had to close down because they weren’t getting enough custom. Although there are other contributing issues to business failure, lack of customers is a biggie.

Getting the word out

Most people think that marketing their great product involves ‘getting the word out’ and letting as many people as possible know about the business. It’s why people market without strategy and make do with a Facebook ad campaign and ad in the local newspaper that have absolutely no creative investment whatsoever. It’s why we see new businesses push their products hard to their friends and family and ask for word of mouth recommendations (people who have been in the game a bit longer know that it takes much more than this).

To be honest ‘getting the word out’ as a marketing strategy is one of the worst approaches you could take.

If anything will ever change, we need persuasion

Sadly, we live in a time where many products we use are harmful to our bodies, our planet or to animals. We’ve all grown up watching a certain washing up liquid company tell us thousands of times throughout our childhood that bubbles in a product = softness and cleanliness, even though the chemical that produces said bubbles does nothing functional and irritates our skin. A cleaning company told us so often that their product ‘kills 99% of germs’ that we started to think that was something that we should be doing – even though destruction of the microbiome in our homes and on our bodies has been linked to all kinds of health issues.

The fact is that a lot of people believe things that aren’t true, and are consuming items that are unhealthy to them.

When you try and sell people products that are good for them, but don’t have lots of bubbles then you’ll see why persuasion is really necessary.

It’s necessary to persuade people:

  • To reduce the plastic they use.
  • To eat healthier food.
  • To buy products that are ethically sourced and don’t contribute to deforestation, worker exploitation, factory farming or pollution.
  • To consume or use products that don’t cause cancer or other health conditions.

Sadly, these things aren’t really intuitive in the general population. We’ve already been persuaded that:

  • Plastic is hygenic and convenient.
  • To avoid fat and eat lots of low fat refined carbs – nutrition? Don’t know her. Cereal companies have directly told us that we need to eat x3 whole grain portions per day and replace x2 meals with their cereal before.
  • To trust the big, old, large companies the most. You know, the ones from the victorian period who enslaved our ancestors and now enslave people in columbia. The ones who chop down the rainforest to have more grazing land for their hamburgers, those guys.
  • That farms are happy, fun places.
  • That everything causes cancer, so why actually bother trying to reduce the amount of chemicals in the cosmetics you use?

If you’re trying to sell anything that counters popular opinion and values, be prepared for a debate. I’ve seen people comment on ads that the latest generation are snowflakes for wanting to be plastic free!

Think you can just tell people to use products without harmful chemicals in, instead of the ones which have been proven to cause cancer? Think that a product that saves peoples lives is a persuasive enough reason for people to buy it? Oh my sweet summer child…

Ethics aside, I’ve seen how resistant people can be to things like:

  • Digitalising their data
  • Using the internet in any way – especially to market anything
  • Not getting their secretaries to print out all their emails instead of simply reading them on screen
  • Doing a life saving, bare minimum amount of exercise
  • Vaccinating their children from lethal diseases
  • Wearing condoms

It takes a good amount of persuasion to get someone to sign up for your monthly charitable donations, or to try your IT service, it really does.

So, to be frank, marketing persuasion tactics are only evil if your product or service is evil. It’s not evil to try and persuade your teenage kid to stop littering when they go to the park, nor is it evil to try and sell anyone anything that is not causing harm. (Although I do know a few people who would say that wanting to make money in general is evil, we won’t get into that!)

And so, I hope that I’ve persuaded you today about why you need persuasion.

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