Sunday, 17 August 2014

Myth, Marketing and Motivation I: What really drives your consumer behaviour?


A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events, e.g.,
ancient Celtic myths.
A fictitious or imaginary person or thing.
An exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.


What drives your consumer behaviour? Is it a physical need such as hunger that drives you to purchase something to eat? Do you make rational choices, carefully calculating the calorie and vitamin content of your food? Or does some higher level motivation such as self esteem influence your purchase of that healthy spinach salad?

Can marketers create needs? Or, can we only shape and satisfy wants? As a consumer, do you always know what you want or need? Even more puzzling, are you always aware of the roots of your motivation(s) to consume?

Do you think it is possible that a myth might stimulate your consumption? If your experience was like mine, you had an English teacher in high school who taught Greek and Roman mythology. Keeping all those gods and goddesses straight may have seemed like an impossible task - why bother?  Well, in case you haven't noticed, mythology is making a big comeback. 

(To see the season 2 trailer. warning: graphic imagery)

We know that the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Vikings, Norse, and Icelandic peoples had myths. But what about closer to home and our own time period. Do myths still exist? And if they do, how do they work in the marketplace?

Consider this advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes. The man's clothing, his hat, and the rope or lariat over this shoulder tell us that he is a cowboy. Would you consider cowboys to be an aspiration group for today's smokers? How many cowboys do you know? Now take a closer look at his face and notice his skin. Do you want to have wrinkles like that? At a literal or surface level, we might conclude that this ad doesn't 'work'. That is, it doesn't motivate us to run out and purchase a package of Marlboro cigarettes. 

But according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2014), Marlboro is the most popular cigarette brand in the United States, with sales greater than its four leading competitors combined (based on 2012 sales data). Furthermore, it is one of the top three brands preferred by young people (the others are Newport and Camel). Obviously, the ad 'works', but how?

The use of the cowboy was an intentional strategy employed by ad agency Leo Burnett as part of its efforts to re-position the brand. Previously, Marlboro had been positioned as a premium ladies' brand. The addition of filters reinforced the 'effeminate' personality of the brand. But the use of the cowboy, "an almost universal symbol of admired masculinity," contributed to a sales increase of over 3,000% (no, that's not a typo). That's because the cowboy in the advertisement acts as a symbol linked to American identity or origin myths.

The history of the United States includes many narratives about individuals with strong wills and equal personalities who helped settle the American West. The cowboy is a prototypical character - strong willed, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, made of strong moral fiber (Walle, 2000). Take another look at the ad. Notice how the cowboy is looking straight at you, making eye contact. This is not a man who would lie to you. He'll make his own decisions and stand by them. These idealized values resonate with many consumers, and although they may not aspire to wear cowboy hats and 'eat trail dust' everyday, they do aspire to live by values espoused in the ads and in the origin myths. The American frontier has been 'closed' for a century, but the myth lives on and it still motivates consumption. 

Think about some of the purchases you make and ask yourself if your motivation might be linked back to your own cultural myths.

If you are interested in learning more about the marketing strategy behind Philip Morris's use of the cowboy to sell cigarettes, check out this article in the Atlantic Monthly.

To read more about cultural branding strategies, check out Douglas Holt's book, How Brands Become Icons.

If you'd like to read more about cowboys and marketing, check out Alf Walle's book, The Cowboy Hero and Its Audience.

Sources: Walle, Alf H. (2000). The Cowboy Hero and Its Audience: Popular Culture as Market Derived Art. Madison, WI: Popular Press.

1 comment:

  1. With all the well written posts that you've published, this is the one that really stood out to me and I'm surprised that no one else took the time to comment. I always felt like there was more to purchasing then the sheer like or dislike of a product. I truly believe that purchases are more then for the sake of owning something new, there is a deeper emotional bond between you and the products you purchase. A women does not go out to and buy the first red dress they see, no they purchase the red dress that will get compliments and in turn increase their self confidence.

    In terms of myths and mythology, Greek and Roman mythology has always been really fascinating to me. Stories of Hercules, Zeus, Aphrodite etc are some that I grew up with; I'm a lot younger then my sister and she was really into this stuff resulting in me being into this stuff. I really think that Ferrero Roche really used the idea of the gods well in their advertisements. Although they do not mention any specific archetype they have a perfectly positioned layout and commentary that sells their chocolates as a "gift from the gods". This type of influence can really make a difference when a consumer is making purchasing decisions. Are they going to go for the generic brand or the brand that was sent to them with love from above (in a sense that is). The way marketers take older archetypes and incorporate them into their advertisements is actually pretty cool, especially when it's so discretely done. I would've never noticed the effectiveness of the cowboy if you hadn't pointed it all out.