Wow, amazing how six weeks can fly by and still feel like an eternity- for better or for worse. You’ve probably noticed I’ve been rather neglectful of this project; a main part of my job now is blogging every day so by the time I get home I’m a bit tired of staring at a computer putting thoughts together.
Anyway, I was thinking about my job recently, as one is prone to do when spending 40+ hours a week in any given place, and I was trying to reason with myself about working in marketing. As someone who routinely goes through phases of moderate asceticism and hates mindless consumption, trying to convince people that they need to go out and buy things isn’t really aligned with my values. But then I realised that marketing really isn’t about that anymore-yes, I know this sounds like denial- but bear with me.
There was a time when marketing and advertising was about reaching everyone and trying to attract the masses to your product and brand a la Mad Men. But that’s simply not the state of the world anymore- now, consumers and people in general want to be understood. We’re not loyal to brands the way our parents and grandparents were; we don’t necessarily buy things because everyone else has them or they’re the most expensive or we see a compelling advertisement on television. We consume to express who we are. We want to be courted by brands that identify with our values, to find products that align with our personalities. With the prevalence of social media, we are all our own brand and we take care to project ourselves in a specific way. How many times have you been in a situation and thought very carefully about how best to tweet about it? How many times have you taken a photograph with the express purpose of putting it on Facebook? Whether consciously or not, we all run very careful PR for ourselves- from each Facebook status to the beverages we consume. If I drink Starbucks, what does that say about me as opposed to someone who drinks organic fair-trade green tea?
I know this sounds like a bit of a departure from my usual “leave all your worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts” ranting. It is- and rest assured, there is still nothing I would love more than to leave all my worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts- but that’s not the world we live in today. People who do that eventually get in trouble for tax evasion. I maintain that it’s important to stay in touch with nature and journey on your individual path to enlightenment, but it’s also irresponsible to forget that the earth is an ecosystem full of people. You’re here for a reason, and if you don’t participate in the massive world around you it’s going to be mighty difficult for you to figure out what your dharma is.
But I digress. Anyway, identity is the type of thing that marketers think of these days. We’re not trying to reach everyone- we’re trying to reach the correct people. Because of the colossal amount of data available to us- through traditional demographics as well as digital media- we can target better than ever so rather than being bombarded by noise, you’re only found by the people you want to be found by. Rather than going out and consuming mindlessly, we’re learning to consume in a way that identifies who we are- for example, instead of going and buying a brand of toilet paper simply because I saw a nationally run commercial for it, I would choose a lesser known but more eco-friendly brand because by placing their message in the correct outlet for their target audience (me) to see it, they made me aware that theirs is a more relevant product to my lifestyle.
I’m not saying that all marketers understand this- obviously we all still get junk mail. But at the same time, have you noticed that after researching which new car to buy, your banner ads now feature used models for sale in your area? Have you recently bought a new yoga mat on Amazon and subsequently noticed a lot more advertisements for local yoga studios? I even got tweeted at by @fiatnow after mentioning that I was shopping for a Mini Cooper, one of their major competitors.
It’s a bit disconcerting to hear that people are gaining such a comprehensive understanding of each other- but in a twisted, bizarre sort of way, it means we’re making great strides as a human race. We may still be trashing the environment and waging wars against each other, but I like to think that perhaps we’re inching closer to a world of compassion where people identify with each other and create useful things to benefit one other. And sure, it can be frightening to see just how much marketers know about you- but if it means that I get relevant information about new blends of organic tea on sale at Whole Foods instead of spammy offers to enlarge anatomy I don’t possess, sign me up!