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The yardstics blog is discussing issues related to marketing and marketing communication. It is to be used as an tool for learning and sharing of information in the mentioned areas. Scroll your way through the blog and find information related to your current course. Ask your lecturer for a password if you want to add material. Enjoy your stay!

Marketers can create needs!?

Myths and misinterpretations Posted on Fri, December 28, 2007 19:44:22

Is it part of the marketer’s job description to create needs? Can needs be created by marketers? The latter of these two questions is often and uncritically answered with a yes by most non-marketing educated consumers. Believing that marketers can create needs is however a serious misconception of what a need is and moreover, what marketing is all about.

A need is a state of felt deprivation. This means that the organism experiencing the need has a deficit of some kind. For instance, as human beings we are every now and then experiencing hunger. Hunger is a need and can by no means be created by marketers no matter how skilled they are. The fact that we become hungry and that we exhibit this particular need every now and then is a consequence of being a living organism and not the creation of marketers. However, we, being humans, use what we call food to satisfy our hunger and here marketers can affect and influence what kind of food we want in order to satisfy our needs. As a matter of fact, marketers can create new wants and influence what we want by innovating and marketing new kinds of food stuff. The average person is most likely confusing the creation of wants with creating needs. Needs cannot be created and we only have a few of them, for example needs such as hunger, thirst, social needs such as belonging, esteem needs and self actualization. These needs do not have to be created, they are already there and are part of the human make up.

If I am hungry I may want to satisfy my need with a sausage, a meatball, a bowl of rice or any other food stuff available and there are millions of them. Obviously I can express an infinite number of different wants that can satisfy the same basic need – hunger.

So when Charlie Nagreen or Fletcher Davis invented the hamburger (both have been accredited as inventors) and sold it to customers they didn’t create a new need, they merely created a new kind of product that could satisfy the very same basic need that humans have had since the dawn of mankind. However, the hamburger was something new that customers could want in order to satisfy their hunger. It is important to be able to distinguish between needs and wants since marketers can create wants but not needs.

Other popular examples of “created needs” that people are frequently pointing at are mobile phones or micro wave ovens. A mobile phone is just a tool for communication, in the same way as stationary phones, fax machines or smoke signals are means of communication. Since the human being is a social creature communication is an inherent part of maintaining social relations. Inventing the mobile phone and selling it to consumers does not create a new need. The need to communicate is already there, it is just giving the customer a new possibility to communicate with others in case he or she wants to communicate in this new way.

The same thing can be said about the micro wave oven, it is a tool to heat up food. Food can be heated in many ways such as over open fire, on the stove or in the micro wave. The micro wave is a new and convenient way to heat up food and does not in any way constitute a new need. However, the customer may want to prepare his/her food using a micro wave.

© Copyright 2007: Stics. This article may not be re-produced (in full or part) in any format/media off-line or Internet based, without prior permission from Stockholm Institute of Communication Science.

The Hoax – 50 Years of Subliminal Advertising

Myths and misinterpretations Posted on Fri, September 28, 2007 00:34:30

There are few stories in the area of marketing that have come to be as widespread and well known as the “Coca Cola – Subliminal Advertising” story. Here you can read a brief summary of the story and the blatant lies behind it. The story goes like:

“This advertising specialist, Mr Vicary, comes up with a brilliant idea and inserts a brief advertising message into a movie but the message is so short that it will not be perceived consciously. The message “Drink Coke” and “Eat popcorn” constitutes a subliminal advertising message and is received by the audience at a sub-treshold level. In the pause, the sales of Coke and popcorn increased dramatically.” End of Story.

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This story is every now and then surfacing in media or among the general public, it can be heard from students, marketing researchers, advertisers and sadly enough, by many professors and professional researchers. What few know is that the “Jim Vicary Hoax” might as well be dubbed the No. 1 Myth in Marketing. It is by far the most well known phenomenon related to marketing that people in general knows about. And that they think is true. Nonetheless, the concept of “Subliminal advertising” is unsubstantiated. (See references below)

Jim Vicary whose advertising agency, at the time, was not doing very well came up with the “experiment” and claimed that he had succeeded in advertising Coke and popcorn in an ingenious way. However, later when he was challenged and could not replicate or even produce the results, Vicary admitted that the results of the initial study had been fabricated (Weir, 1984). Furthermore, later studies have never produced any scientific evidence of the phenomenon, on the contrary (Moore, 1982, Rogers & Seiler, 1994, Percy & Elliot, 2005).

Then, what is this so called “Subliminal advertising” all about? “Subliminal advertising” is defined as advertising that employs stimuli operating below the threshold of consciousness. It is supposed to influence the recipient’s behaviour without him/her being aware of any communication taking place. However, fact is that since the message is communicated below the treshold then this is equivalent to no input at all. The human attention system is not constructed in such a way that it can receive and make sense out of messages that has such a short time span.

Those talking about the Subliminal effect are mixing things up! It is worth to notice that one should not, like many do, confuse the term subliminal with unawareness. Unawareness of the impact of an advertisment is something completely different than the “Subliminal”-concept. For instance, a person may read an article in a newspaper and next to the text is an advertisement for a product. Now, in this case the reader will be exposed to the advertisement perhaps even for minutes and the peripheral vision will capture parts of what is advertised as the eyes of the reader is being scanned back and forth over the text for a long period of time and also covering the ad at times. Clearly this does not have anything to do with the claimed “subliminal effect” but when studying the advocates of “Subliminal advertising” some are confusing Subliminal with unconscious. Another example frequently used is the small ice cube lady in a glass of whishy or any other drink. In this case some are arguing that it is “Subliminal advertising”. A notion that is somewhat difficult to understand. In cases like this the small pinup girl wearing bikini in the glass is clearly visible if you take the time and look. So in what sense is that “Subliminal advertising”? And what do the advocates of “Subliminal advertising” expect to happen? That the customer runs and buys a bikini?

So why has “Subliminal advertising” gotten so much attention then? To understand that, things has to be put into context. There may actually be some answers.
a) The book “The hidden persuaders” by Vance Packard from the end of the fifties was successful in stirring up peoples feelings. In his book he is sketching how consumers are manipulated, with advertising, into a consumption prison to the benefit of the companies.
b) During this era, 50s – 60s, when the cold war was raging and senator McCarthy was at his peak some people and some organizations were very concerned about whether methods like “Subliminal advertising” and the like could be used for political propaganda as a hidden weapon.
c) During the 60s, 70s and up to the mid 80s the concept of hypnosis and subconscious effects were widely popular. Perhaps you may even remember TV-shows from this time where psychologists or “magicians” were hypnothising people live making them do funny things. “Subliminal advertising” fit very well into this time.
d) “Subliminal advertising” is interesting because it tickles our imagination! The very concept of “Subliminal advertising” challenges our free will. It is manipulating us and worst of all, it is obscured or hidden so we do not know if or even when we have been subjected to it… and that may perhaps be the number one reason why this marketing myth is still alive and continuous drawing attention to itself.

This year (2007) it is 50 years since Jim Vicary conducted his infamous “experiment”. Today Vicary’s story has unfortunately developed into folklore. But what is worse is that the general public as a consequence of this has a serious misperception of marketing and advertising.

//Patrik Nilsson

© Copyright 2007: Stics. This article may not be re-produced (in full or part) in any format/media off-line or Internet based, without prior permission from Stockholm Institute of Communication Science.

Find more on this topic in the following references:

Sheri J. Broyles, (2006), “Subliminal Advertising and the Perpetual Popularity of Playing to People’s Paranoia.” Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 40 Issue 2, p392-406

Dichter, Ernst (2007), “It was rubbish then, it’s rubbish now” Advertising Age; 9/10/2007, Vol. 78 Issue 36

Moore, Timothy E. (1982). Subliminal Advertising: What You See Is What You Get. Journal of Marketing. 38-47.

Rogers, Martha; Seiler, Christine A. (1994), “The answer is no: A national survey of advertising industry practitioners and their clients about whether they use subliminal advertising”, Journal of Advertising Research, Mar/Apr, Vol. 34 Issue 2

Weir, Walter (1984), “Another Look at Subliminal ‘Facts’.”, Advertising Age.