On marketing and perception, part 1 of 3

For those with an engineering background, marketing seems somewhat bizarre. A lot about it just does not seem to make any sort of sense. This is commonly known as the rational-view-of-the-world bias. But if you look into it, things become clearer step by step.

Mostly everything follows from Rule Number One of marketing. It goes as follows:

You must emphasize that which your product is not.

Seems quite backwards, doesn’t it? But yet, this is what has been proven to work, time and time again. Let’s look at an example.

One of the main plot devices of the TV show True Blood is that a japanese company has developed synthetic blood and thus vampires don’t have to feed on humans any more. They named this product Tru Blood.

Why this name? Because that is the one thing the product is not. It is not real, but synthetic.

A more real-world example comes from Hong Kong. They had a problem where people in a certain swamp area kept dying of malaria. This of course made it somewhat hard to get people to move in there. So the people in charged made the only reasonable choice: they renamed the place Happy Valley. Problem solved.

This is one of those things that once you “see” it, it’s everywhere. Here are just some examples.

Apple’s slogan is “Think different” but their products go out of their way to prevent the user from doing anything not officially sanctioned.

Any Hollywood movie that advertises itself as a “hilarious comedy” is usually roughly as fun as dragging steel forks on a chalkboard.

Restaurants and food manufacturers commonly use phrases such as “just like mom used to make” and “delicious home-cooked food” even though my mother never made any food like that and and fairly sure that chefs don’t live in the backrooms of their restaurants. (And if they do, I really don’t want to eat in those locations.)

Freshly squeezed orange juice isn’t and blueberry muffins aren’t.

Enron’s stationary slogan was “Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence.”

The TV show Bullshit! was originally about exposing quacks and hoaxes using science. At some point it became a soapbox for the hosts’ personal libertarian agenda of “everything the government ever does is always wrong (even if it is the exact opposite of what we were talking about last week)”. At the exact same time the show’s opening credits was changed to emphasize science, objectivity, reason, fairness and all other values the show itself didn’t adhere to any more.

The obvious question that comes from all this is that why does this work. That will be explained in the next post.

3 thoughts on “On marketing and perception, part 1 of 3

  1. So your saying the following slogans are emphasizing the opposite of reality?
    “Humanity to others”
    “A whole new computer”

    Hmmmm. Fascinating. I’m not sure that’s what you wanted to say. But I think that’s what you just said.


  2. Obviously not every single slogan in the world is going to follow this rule. For example, McDonald’s’ ad phrase is “Over one billion served”, which is 100% accurate.

    • Statements which are fact based are inherently different than marketting slogans which are open to interpretation.

      Whether or not McDonald’s has indeed served 99 billion+ is an historic fact that can be verified or discredited given enough access to McDonald’s internal data and methodology for counting. That’s not a marketting slogan, its business analytics. And FYI, McDonalds says they stopped counting in 1994
      But an enthusiastic member of the McDonalds community has kept on trying to count using a modified methodology:

      By the way, can you point me to any public methodology statement for how Canonical counts Ubuntu users. Sort of important in the context your’ve brought up, as so far since 2006 when Canonical started publishing userbase estimates they’ve never actually come clean and communicated how that estimate is arrived at. And well, in the new push for the app dev portal Canonical once again draws attention to the userbase estimate as a hook. Someone inside the Canonical fenceline really needs to publish a methodology for how they get that estimate. Fair warning.

      Now McDonalds other slogan “food,folks and fun” its not fact based and falls within the bounds of your original thesis as it’s a hand crafted slogan not based on verifiable fact but on project perception concerning the McDonalds experience. I guess according to your thesis McDonalds probably isn’t “fun.”


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