If there’s one textbook that I read in university that changed my life, it’s Twenty Ads That Shook The World by James B. Twitchell. It was Twitchell that introduced me to the late 1930’s De Beers campaign that positioned diamonds as the “ritualistic, totemic, metaphoric” rocks we know today; the rocks we identify as a girl’s best friend.
After reading this textbook front to back, I received a 94 at the end of my two month summer course. In a paradoxical twist, I remember thinking, “I never want to work in advertising.”
So what gives?
Diamonds: the rock I had grown up to accept as a romantic tradition turned out to be rooted in manipulation, fabrication and all things that didn’t quite align with my moral compass. But, I have to admit, the marketing of this phenomenon was absolutely fascinating.
What really set me off is one point: “Not only do they [diamonds] last forever,” Twitchell wrote, “but diamonds have almost no practical use.” And I repeat, no practical use. That’s the most disheartening part about it; realizing how many men and women spend months of salary on rocks… because of advertising. There are so many deeper levels of semiotics that come into play here, but it’s still astonishing, nonetheless.
While the De Beers campaign presents a brilliant but extreme example of marketing possibilities at work, I also have come to appreciate these three marketing and advertising truths. Though they may seem obvious, it’s easy to forget when life moves so damn fast… they may just change your mind (or perspective) too.
Marketing and advertising are not inherently evil.
The vast majority of marketing isn’t used to swindle people out of their savings. The goal is to evoke an emotional response and provoke consumers to take some kind of action. If you have a favourite PSA, you may not remember all the details, but you’ll remember how it made you feel.
Sell what you believe in.
Building on point number 1: most marketers and advertisers aren’t in the business to screw consumers over. With that said, it’s still difficult to sell/promote/leverage a product or service that you don’t believe in. Speaking to my personal experience at Splash Effect, we work with a number of non-profit organizations, government groups, small and medium sized businesses that want to serve your best interests. The goal is to make you, the consumer, a better person. And I can work with that.
Though the marketing and advertising industry wants to keep pushing the limits, it’s definitely not all spectacle-based or smoke-and-mirror tactics as one may think. Sometimes the simple things go a long way (see point three).
You can change lives – for the better.
Case in point: Splash Effect works with a number of Canadian universities. Let’s say I set up an ad for an event on campus. The goal is to 1) reach them 2) compel them to attend and act on this message.
Take any given student(s) who saw that one ad. By having this message reach and compel them, they went on to attend their first networking event and meet their future employer, or a stranger that turns into a good friend, or another student that goes on to become their spouse. At the end of the day, as a marketer and or advertiser, that is our reward. We may not always hear these stories, but we know our actions can influence them and set the ball rolling towards something much greater than ourselves.