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A question, perhaps

December 15, 2008

I’ve got three exams left, and a paper not quite finished that was now due a little over a week ago. I’m prepared and excited for one of my exams, and the other two just require a lot of work that I don’t know I’m truly prepared to give in. The fact is, the subjects are ones that interest me, but the classes aren’t particularly interesting, and in one case, the professor is so horrible, it made it difficult to force myself to actually go to class. One positive about these classes though, is that they’ve both gotten me thinking, about different things.

I’ve been catching up on the reading for my advertising class, and so I read OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion by Lucas Conley yesterday. There are some things out there that are really scary. A big part of the book is the point that branding has so infiltrated our lives, that we are unknowingly allowing it to break down the social boundaries and connections that have lasted for decades and centuries. The worst part is that the branding is encouraged by the consumer, because he is unaware of the effect it is having on him. He says:

Our obsession with branding has led us into a state of disorder in which society’s fundamental relationships and institutions are being repidly exploited by the aims of marketing.

The world is cheapened when everyone sees it with a marketer’s eye. We lose trust for each other and grow skeptical of one another as we try to determine what we’re being sold. We become more isolated and more self conscious, more prone to rely on brands for status and to ally ourselves with other brand loyalists for company. All the while, we expect an enormous amount from brands and yet are disappointed at how poorly they meet our expectations. (199)

One of his main concerns is the growth of word-of-mouth marketing. WOM is every marketer’s dream, as it costs a company little or nothing to have someone tout a product to their neighbor, brother, colleague, etc… However, previously, WOM was a natural phenomenon- when someone genuinely liked a product, they were apt to tell someone about it, maybe upon hearing that that person was using a competitive product that they considered to be inferior. Now, companies like P&G are creating communities for teens and mothers, where they learn about products, and then go on to tell others about them. In return for being a part of the community, and for encouraging others to buy certain products, the participants are rewarded with samples, and other compensation. The part that worries Conley is that at least 1% of teens, and 7% of mothers, are involved in organized WOM programs, and by law, they are not required to disclose that they are pitching, they need to say nothing about their affiliation to the product at all. This, says Conley, will deteriorate social ties over time. While I think these numbers are staggering, and that WOM community members should be required to disclose their affiliations, I don’t know that this will end society as we know it. Nor do I think other parts of the book have a firm grounding in reality. It’s certainly an interesting read though, and if you’re interested in marketing, sales, or advertising, you should pick it up.

Questions for you: What do you think about these numbers? Do you think you would realise if your friend was pitching a product to you instead of just debating the pros and cons of a product s/he liked? Do you think this is likely to make you more skeptical? Have you read the book, and if so, what do you think about what Conley has to say?


I was also going to talk about my film class too, but I think that’s enough for now.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 15, 2008 1:21 pm

    Good post!

    First, I think it’s really interesting, wonderful, and tedious that our culture has circled back towards word of mouth as a primary source of influence.

    I have mixed feelings about this. One one hand, I don’t agree that there is something wrong with incentive for influence. We’ve seen it for ever throughout history, and it’s a fundamental of business. The issue though comes from the lack of transparency. Which, especially now, is very highly embraced.

    Of course there is no way to track down or forbid this type of messaging, but P&G could encourage more transparency from the get-go. In fact, I feel that if they did, and if a friend approached me with a product or concept which was clearly sponsored, I’d appreciate the honesty more from the company and might more likely purchase their product.

    Good Luck!

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