“AI can only replace humans where the work is not suited to us. There are many things that only humans can do: feeling the mood and atmosphere of a place, or using the five senses. And humans can create new kinds of work, too. What human beings can do is surprisingly complex.”Kazuto Ataka, CSO, Yahoo Japan Corporation
In the tech world, they call us ninjas, wizards, geniuses, geeks, and experts. Some even think we’re magicians. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t just a little bit crazy to go about making a living in this world of mixed messaging and maneuvering.
It’s important to me that the work I do and the work I engage in doing with others is something we can all be glad to do– something worthwhile. With the hearty investment of time and energy that we expend at our jobs, it’s gratifying to do something that I enjoy doing, and that makes me feel good when I do it.
Marketing gets a bad rap, and most of the time, for a good reason. We’ve dug up some of the most egregious examples of malicious marketing tactics for you.
- Reebok came under fire in 2008 for advertising “research results” that showed their EasyTone shoe line strengthened and toned the calves, hamstrings, and glutes. It turned out that they’d never conducted any such studies and the advertising claims were completely false.
- A 2011 Mother’s Day ad for Mr. Clean Magic Erasers depicted a woman showing her daughter how to use the product with the caption, “This Mother’s Day, Get Back to the Job That Really Matters,” with many decrying the apparent message that women’s only function is to serve her family as a homemaker.
- In an ill-fated “greenwashing” attempt, Volkswagen got caught cheating on emissions tests in 2016 to hide that their vehicles produced more than 40 times the legal level of nitrogen oxide exhaust. These same vehicles were advertised as “eco-friendly” and “Clean Diesel.”
- Emotional manipulation– also referred to as pathos– is an incredibly common tactic for advertisers, as showcased by a 2015 Nationwide ad that featured a young boy riding his bike. It’s pleasant enough, at least until he begins to list off life experiences he’ll never have because he died in a tragic accident. Twitter rose to the occasion, calling out the insurance company for their obvious and overhanded use of fear to convince people to buy their product.
This isn’t a new phenomenon either. It’s been going on since the marketing industry emerged, something we discussed in our two-part series on old advertising.
You might wonder why anyone would make a career in this industry. If you are, you are beginning to understand why I sometimes question my sanity.
We rise above the bad rap and do good marketing by keeping in mind that at the end of the day, across the whole landscape of business, it’s our extended network of neighbors that we’re conducting commerce with, even when we’ve got our marketing sights set on them.
Targeting the Mind of Our Audience
Marketing is something like fishing.
If you know anything about fishing, you know that the best fishermen are experts in recognizing the signs of life that point them to their prey. Waterfowl and birds of prey are tattletales in tracking future fish nuggets, but they are external signs. Others force the hunter into the mindset of the fish to really understand them — the weather, the bait life cycle, water temperature — all of these will clue them exactly where to find their floppy, slippery target and when. Seeing through the eyes of the fish helps the observant fisherman make predictions about their behavior and bag the goods.
Youtube University will teach you that if you want to catch fish, you must not only be able to spot the signs of fish, but you need to know what it’s like to be the fish.
This is analogous to the work of the marketer. When a person or organization has a message they want to communicate to someone (usually for a profit of one sort or another), they turn to marketers to help them dress up and craft that message. Then we use modern technology to deliver the message to their target audience with exceptional accuracy.
We use similar tactics as the fisherman, stepping into the frame of our intended audience, anticipating the flow of thoughts and objections they’ll have to our pitch, and designing a logical pathway that accounts for all decisions they might make.
Our initial work is to provoke awareness about the company or product in the user’s mind. We aim to hit them at just the right time, when they are in just the right place, with just the right information to attract their attention for a moment — we aim directly for the frontal lobe with what we hope are convincing words and pictures.
When you’re on the outside looking in, fishing and marketing could almost seem like magic, but neither of them is mysterious when you understand how they work.
At NATIV3, we know what makes our target tick and how to draw them in, and the tools we have today are as sharp as they’ve ever been.
What sets us apart from others, though, is that even as we strategize about how to market to them, we take time to remember that fellow human minds are in our sights, not fish.
Marketing + Technology: A Power Couple
Technology is the practical application of the knowledge of all the grand inventions available to us in creation. We use marketing technology to send a message to humans hoping for a response. Our training and focus are to lock in on the mechanics of the mind.
One might say that we’re tasked with tapping into the biological algorithms of our human targets.
We don’t stop at making an introduction between our clients and end users in our advertising. We need to persuade each end user to make a decision. We call it a conversion.
To scroll or not scroll is the question. What good is a pretty lure that’s never been in a fish’s mouth? When we launch ads, we shoot for an active decision from our patrons. We want them to click, read, download, and buy.
Marketers the world over have made fortunes extracting capital from our wallets through well-crafted messaging delivered on a well-oiled machine.
We intentionally arrange certain information and identify specific groups of people we want to target with it with the intent of getting them to do something.
Our clients give us a message to deliver with an ultimatum for the user. We send our little customized packages of information to our intended users, blazing at light speed with incredible efficiency. Technology, with all of its modern advancements, is our chosen delivery method for the task.
Like trained fishermen, we hate to miss. This raises the stakes of what we do.
Since our work merchandises in the realm of the human mind and attempts to convince people to take some action that we define, I take seriously the responsibility of conducting it with integrity. No one wants to be manipulated, and exploitative manipulation comprises much of the marketing we see today. Some of the best creative talent teams in the world combine their efforts to make you feel soft and squishy about wanting a sweetened beverage or a stick of gum.
Much of the marketing we see is used as a kind of magic in modern garb. Like all the arts, this art of ours has many good uses, but as with all good things, individuals use them in all the ways, good and bad, that one can conceive.
The people we target are living tired, chaotic lives filled with an onslaught of messaging from advertisers toying with their emotions to pry open their wallets.
As if working in the arena of the will and desires of people isn’t a tricky enough business, some even have the temerity to try to define virtues for their so-called customers, communicating value systems along with their pitch to you to buy their insurance policy. Playing on emotion isn’t enough in the wild west of marketing. Some would even go for the consciences of their users.
I digress to make the point: We care about the humans staring at our ads. It’s important to us that we engage them with things that are relevant to them and true. We want their decisions to tap on our ads to be a decision they made because we clearly communicated the message of our clients, creatively arrested their attention, and convinced them that we have what they need. And we want them to feel the satisfaction that lingers after they get a good deal on something they need and have no buyer’s regret.
There are seemingly endless considerations generated from this sincere motivation we have of marketing with integrity. The challenge frequently arises here as to how to get our clients results that matter to them without manipulating the viewers of our ads, and there is not always an easy answer.
However, it’s a challenge we invite and thrive in developing solutions for.
Here’s what drives us at NATIV3: meeting clients with good products, good ideas, and good business plans who need our expertise in navigating the Digital Landscape to connect their products and services to Humans who need them.
Emotionally-driven marketing is a cheap trick aimed at manipulation for profit. We know it in our hearts when we see it. We aim higher than that in all of our efforts here. The Human Element is at the forefront of our thinking and planning.
To help me keep them front and center, I think of our end users as neighbors, distant though they are, brought up close and personal through technology. And as a neighbor, I’d never trick them into coming to my place for gumbo, but I’d gladly approach them with an invitation.
Marketing and the technology we use to deliver our messaging are not magic, and we aren’t magicians. We’re just thoughtful and creative people using the tools currently available to us to catch some fish.
We do that by helping our clients shape and deliver their “Call to Action” to you, the end users, humans on the line with us.
In that sense, we’re more like fishermen than magi. Fishermen with a message.