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Mar 2014 07

nothing but the best for baby?

Posted in blog

‘Emotional blackmail’ tactics are increasingly used to promote brands – do we as marketers have any responsibility to consumers not to deliberately create a false sense of fear or guilt to sell our clients products, or are we simply satisfying a genuine need in an effective way?

Apologies for the absence of a post for a few weeks, but yours truly took delivery of a new addition to the world which means I am now writing this at 3 o’clock in the morning with one eye on a monitor as my better half catches a few well deserved zeds.

The relevance of this is that it has brought sharply to my attention the entire industry built around new parents.  Naturally, until a few months ago I didn’t know prams actually came in options other than blue or pink, and if you’d asked me what a caesarean was I would have told you it was a salad option.

Now, of course, it is a different story.

And frankly, in my limited experience, I feel rather uncomfortable about what I describe as a ‘climate of fear’ that has been instilled in me by fellow marketers.

It is somewhat reminiscent of the experience I had when I was planning my wedding with my wife some years ago.  That familiar condescending tone that comes over a salesman’s face when you mention you are shopping for such a celebration.  Suddenly their faces light up and they turn to you (the groom and therefore the presumed whinger when it comes to spending money – correct of course) and guide you away from the normal priced offerings and straight over to the ‘premium’ range.  “Of course” they exclaim within earshot of your fiancé , “you’ll want it to be the most special day of your lives”, as your wallet rapidly starts to heat up and then instantaneously combusts.

Guilt – that is what they prey on of course.  They very cleverly plant the seed in your brain of how you will look if you DON’T buy the best.  They DON’T extol the virtues of the premium range which may well be worth the extra spend (and which is what marketing principles teach you to do).  They simply make it impossible for you to feel anything other than cheap if you don’t splash the extra cash.

The ‘emotional’ sell is of course 90% of what branding is all about.  Making connections with consumers and brands is what The Marketing Box spends most of its time trying to do, and brand perceptions are an intriguing mix of emotional and sometimes irrational opinions that we marketers aspire to at least keep under some control or influence.  But mostly these brand values are positive, aimed at creating a preference for a brand that will improve our consumers lot in life if we make a purchase, not what will happen if we don’t.

This ‘negative’ marketing is not new of course.  Insurance for example is an industry built on what might happen, and what you very much hope doesn’t happen, and yet can end up persuading you to part with hundreds of extra pounds ‘just in case’.  I actually felt quite pleased when my car went on fire a few years back.  At least I got some of my money back.

Back to the recent arrival. “Nothing but the best for baby” is a term I am becoming familiar with,  but as I mentioned what I have noticed is that more and more I am being marketed ‘at’ using language that puts the fear of god into me, rather than pushing all the joyful things we could experience.

Take the choice of car for example. It’s all about building a protective bubble around your precious darling that frankly sticks two fingers up to anyone else not following along.  Don’t worry if you crash your brand new Dulwich Tractor into another car, because your family will be fully protected by the 2 inch armour plating and impact bars.  Obviously the poor sods in the average priced family car will be scraped off the pavement and put into doggy bags, but hey it serves them right for being cheap eh?

My point is- are we all contributing to creating a society based on fear that may not actually have any basis in reality?  As if there isn’t enough stress already for a new parent. Temperature monitors, steriliser kits, cot bumpers, hypo-allergenic do-dahs etc etc and now we even have Reckitt Benckiser (Dettol) promoting an automatic soap dispenser so you don’t have to touch the nozzle (pardon but aren’t you about to wash your hands anyway?).  It all contributes to the overwhelming feeling that if you don’t buy into all these ‘innovations’, you are somehow a bad parent.

20 years ago this stuff never existed.  As far as I’m aware we didn’t have rampant diseases and children’s arms falling off left right and centre because someone didn’t use an aloe vera scented wet wipe.

But as marketers we know that by preying on the fear of a new mum, and the guilt of a new dad, it is absolutely open season on raking in the cash.

Perhaps it’s just because I have joined the newly enlightened ranks of fatherhood.  Maybe all this stuff is progress and we’re simply supplying a genuine need.  It’s not like I can claim any moral high ground over ever using slightly underhand techniques to push product anyway – I’m in marketing after all – and buyers still have a choice.  But if we deliberately create a climate in which people are made to feel somehow less responsible or even fearful if they don’t shell out on the goods, aren’t we being more than a little dishonest?

Anyway, time to get off this high horse and back to my duties.  I have to soak the fair-trade eco-nappies in Malaysian orchid water before I can prepare the yogurt and saffron foot balm for junior.  Happy days…


Posted by: Rob Paton, Director, The Marketing Box