Marketers are letting us down by making us feel inadequate, says Jonah Sachs in Winning the Story Wars.
Marketing has enormous power and reach. Each of us has received more than one million marketing messages in our lifetime, and they have a big effect on how we see ourselves and the world. In other words, in many ways marketers are mythmakers.
Marketing stories and myths could raise us up, help us grow and mature as individuals and as a society. Instead, for many years marketers have told us that we are somehow incomplete.
Most advertising reinforces emotions like vanity and insecurity. It tells us that we only need to buy a certain product to feel strong and powerful, safe and secure, or sexy and desirable. Sachs calls this inadequacy marketing.
Inadequacy marketing is a two-act story:
Step 1. Create anxiety.
Step 2. Introduce the magic solution.
Examples of these magic solutions include:
- Joy = Coke, as in “Are you sad? Coke makes you happy.”
- Status = Cadillac
- Sex appeal = Rolex
- Safety = A vote for a get-tough-on crime candidate
- Guilt reduction = Recycling
There are plenty of problems with inadequacy marketing, but a big problem for society is the crisis of consumption. If we think we need to buy things to solve our problems, we will continue to buy more and more.
However, research shows that consumption has not made us any happier. In fact, while national consumption has more than doubled since the 1950s, our individual happiness has declined.
What should we do? Joseph Campbell, famous for writing The Power of Myth and other well-known books about myth, said “The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about now and in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet . . . and everybody on it. . . . Until that gets going, you don’t have anything.”
Sachs said that we can craft a better future by switching from inadequacy marketing to empowerment marketing. While Sachs is concerned about consumption and our ecological and social crisis, others might be concerned about “fraying values, out-of-control wealth inequity, incivility in politics, or any number of pressing modern issues.”
Watch for the next post to read about marketers who have rejected inadequacy marketing for a more positive approach.