Opinion

Narcissism and $3million dollar experiments: how you’re being pushed to sell out faster


Author Martin Lindstrom thinks that we are living in a self-obsessed ‘Me First’ generation. While he doesn’t go on to state it, the implication is that we’re all for sale.

I think that he’s wrong. And I take issue with his vision of the future of advertising helping us sell out faster.

Savvy brand marketers are always looking for ways to boost their revenues. Lindstrom’s article for Fast Company (“It’s All About Me!” 23 Nov 2011) references Australia’s ‘Share a coke with a Mate‘ campaign – which is a pretty neat idea to drive people to the shops to snap up a ‘personalised’ can.

The extension of the campaign was to give shoppers the chance to have their names printed on a can (if their name is unusual or all of the other stock had sold out). Lindstrom reports:

The lines were so long, people waited for hours just to have their own name printed on the can.

Good on Coke, and good on their agency for delivering personalisation and word-of-mouth into a well known FMCG brand leader.

Examples continue to flow – Lego and Japan Post are getting in on the personalisation act in a bid to woo consumers to their products.

But does this suggest that we’re living in a ‘Me First’ generation? No, it doesn’t.

In case you’ve missed the news, Occupy is pretty big right now.

Occupy is growing, and the antithesis of ‘Me First’.

Yesterday, thousands of people were on strike in the UK, not in acts of individual protest, but in order to show solidarity for each other and the economic hardship that an almighty balls-up in the pension pots promises to deliver.

Movements such as the $100 Challenge flourish in local communities as people take some time to give back in the most un-‘Me First’ way that I can think of.

I don’t believe we’re living in a ‘Me-First’ generation. We’re living in a generation where the cost of production has sunk to such a degree that personalisation is not only possible, but commercially viable.

A few years back, it probably wouldn’t have been cost effective to lug a printer to a shopping mall in order to stick someone’s name on a can of fizzy pop.

The technological cost of access to the stamp printing mechanisms was such that uploading a photo to a website so that you could make your own stamp was prohibitive.

As technology increases, costs race towards zero (or marginal). This allows the consumer the opportunity to customise the things around them to a far greater extent.

So the uplift in Coke sales outweighs the marginal costs of can printing. The increased stamp sales (some of which will never be used and thus bear no cost to Japan Post) comes at near-zero cost.

It’s a bit of fun for the consumer. And a big buck winner for the brand.

The idea that we’re living in a ‘Me First’ society takes consumer-centric marketing practice to the edge – and then pushes it off the cliff.

Marketers should be trying to connect with the consumer on a personal level and provide a product or service that enhances their lives – be that a cold drink on a hot day, a will writing service or reliable transportation.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re in a ‘Me First’ generation. It simply means that we have the tools of mass customisation available at a zero or marginal cost to make this happen.

After all, really how unique is a can of Coke with ‘John’ emblazoned on the side? (Answer, it’s not. ‘John’ is one of the most popular boy’s names going. How different, how ‘Me First’ is your Coke can really going to be if you’re called John?)

Lindstrom goes on to suggest that even the advertising we see will be tainted with this ‘Me First’ approach.

I don’t know how true his forecast of discounts in return for testimonials on Facebook is.

But the very thought fills me with horror.

Let me be clear about this.

The moment you exchange something of yours (time, endorsement etc) for a financial return, you are up for sale.

You are monetising the relationships you hold with your friends, family and loved ones.

You are selling out. And you’re able to sell out faster because of technology.

Maybe you’ll be happy to give a “60-second testimonial in return for a 10% discount” on a new car. What about for a washing machine?

Have a look at this video, streamed from Youtube:

My gut feeling about this is that it is nothing more than paid product placement in the guise of a user review.

Of course, I don’t know this for a fact. But I trust my gut feel. And I know this isn’t a new practice.

These relationships have been monetised and all of the authenticity – and hence utility – has been bled out of them.

Now imagine if all of your friends did this.

Every time you log into Facebook, your mother is extolling the virtues of her new Toyota. Your Best Man is putting his face to a book. Your sister is elucidating about her new bed. The guy that you don’t really know all that well but swapped details with at a conference after he uttered a particularly good bon mot is going on about his new lawnmower.

You get the idea.

Far from being ‘friends and family’ recommendations, all this does is monetise your relationships and provide more easily screened out advertising clap-trap.

I have no doubt that Lindstrom’s $3million experiment proved conclusively that people buy from people and that word of mouth is an exceptionally powerful driver in sales. In fact, there’s even been a film called ‘The Joneses’ from 2009 centring on this very idea (Brandwashed was released in 2011 I believe).

This is not news.

We know this already – mostly from experience.

Imagine you’re my (actual) friend/respected colleague and we’re talking about marketing.

You suggest that I should follow a certain blogger.

What do I do?

I’ll probably take your advice.

But I won’t take your advice if it’s on an advert for that blog.

Why?

Simple.

Because your advice in context of our conversation is providing a personalised recommendation based on the content of our discussions.

You won’t be being beamed at me by a clever piece of cold code.

And that gives your recommendation authenticity.

Tomorrow, I’m going to take this whole mess and write up some strategies that you might want to consider to generate this buzz for yourself, but without getting your audience to sell out.

In the meantime, tell me what you think. Just don’t expect me to pay you for that opinion.

Because you, like me, are not for sale. And if you are for sale, you’re probably on the wrong blog.

Big shout out to my friend and thought sparring partner, Neil Striker, on this one again. Here’s our original Facebook discussion which kicked the whole thing off.

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2 thoughts on “Narcissism and $3million dollar experiments: how you’re being pushed to sell out faster

  1. Pingback: Be brave: cede control and build buzz without bias using psychographics «

  2. Pingback: 6 kickass topics for Advertising Wednesday (Daily Strategic Bulletin for 08 Feb 2012) |

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