Marketers: Liars Who Lie About Lying

Deception is the very ether of big business marketing. As Gregory S. Carpenter and Rashi Glazer reported in their award-winning Journal of Marketing Research article, “Meaningful Brands from Meaningless Differentiation: The Dependence on Irrelevant Attributes”:

[M]any brands…successfully differentiate on an attribute that appears valuable but, on closer examination, is irrelevant to creating the implied benefit.

For example, Procter & Gamble differentiates instant Folger’s coffee by its “flaked coffee crystals” created through a “unique, patented process,” implying (but not stating) in its advertising that flaked coffee crystals improve the taste of coffee. In fact, the shape of the coffee particle is relevant for ground coffee (greater surface area exposed during brewing extracts more flavor), but it is irrelevant for instant coffee: The crystal simply dissolves, so its surface area does not affect flavor.

Similarly, Alberto Culver differentiates its Alberto Natural Silk Shampoo by including silk in the shampoo, and advertising it with the slogan “We put silk in a bottle” to suggest a user’s hair will be silky. However, a company spokesman conceded that silk “doesn’t really do anything for hair” (Adweek 1986).

Consumers apparently value these differentiating attributes even though they are, in one sense, irrelevant.

Although they claimed in their article to find such results “disquieting,” Carpenter and Glazer proceeded to

propose a set of hypotheses about when consumers will value this additional attribute, and tests in two experiments support our explanation.

Thus, we suggest that differentiation based on a unique, distinguishing, but irrelevant attribute, through the consumer inference process, can create a relevant and valuable perceived difference, leading to a meaningfully differentiated brand.

“A meaningfully differentiated brand,” is, of course, marketing success — a profitable stream of new, fraud-based product sales.

The struggle to discover new ways of deceiving buyers, of course, continues. Intensification, being the royal road to “more for ourselves,” is the only thing overclasses know how to do, in good times and bad.

But do practitioners often admit the evil nature of their own labors? They most certainly do not, even in the face of the most blatantly Orwellian tactics.

Consider the story conveyed by reporter Stuart Elliott in today’s New York Times:

NEVER mind brainstorms. These days, Madison Avenue is all about brain waves.

That may be overstated, but it is no exaggeration that agencies and advertisers are growing more interested in neuroscience in their never-ending efforts to improve effectiveness.

The ardor of the ad business to adopt the technical tools of biometrics — measuring brain waves, galvanic skin response, eye movements, pulse rates and the like — is increasing as consumer spending, the engine of the American economy, slows.

In other words, in hard times ads must work harder to move the merchandise.

“Instead of hypotheses about what people think and feel, you actually see what they think and feel,” said Joel Kades, vice president for strategic planning and consumer insight at Virgin Mobile USA in Warren, N.J.

“I’m not such a huge fan of ad testing,” he added, but measuring biological responses is “absolutely useful.”

After explaining some of the techniques already being used in major corporate marketing campaigns, Elliott raises the topic of criticism:

Some consumer advocates question the role of biometrics in ad research. They worry that blending “Weird Science” with “Mad Men” will give marketers an unfair advantage over consumers.

As usual, this prompts the hoary old “we’re only collecting votes” fib from the architects of the new tools for spying on sub-conscious response mechanisms:

“The role of neuromarketing is to understand how people feel and react,” Ms. Moses said. “It in no way sets out to meddle with normal, natural response mechanisms.”

Yes, sure, right. Big businesses are spending millions studying people’s brains, pupils, and sweat glands only for reasons of pure science?

[Moses’] opinion was echoed by Robert E. Knight, the director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, who is also the chief science adviser at NeuroFocus.

“We’re not trying to predict an individual’s thoughts and actions and we’re not trying to input messages,” Dr. Knight said.

Who in the world could possibly believe that? It is simply and obviously a huge lie.

And these lying liars who lie about lying are key employees of the “entrepreneurs” we continue to permit to boss our society…