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The Darwinian world of brand marketing
An author’s “triggers to persuasion and captivation” read more like the seven deadly sins.
We all know what evolutionary psychology (EP) has meant for sociology, psychology, and religious anthropology: a serious effort to explain human behaviour in terms of ape behaviour or “hardwired” Stone Age genes. For example, you get your selfish genes from your mother, so it’s her fault if you don’t visit her...
The EP academics, however pernicious their ideas, are doubtless just trying to understand. But what happens when their theories hit the business world? Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation by Sally Hogshead (Harper Business, 2010) gives us a glimpse of the Darwinian universe, as opposed to the Judeo-Christian one.
Hogshead is a brand marketing specialist. She helps executives persuade us to pay more for a brand than for a reliable service. Her special theory, gathered from research studies of apes and brain scans, is that the best strategy is “fascinating” people, and she has identified seven triggers for the spells a perceptive marketer can cast on them: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust.
This list vaguely echoes the seven deadly sins, except for the last. But caution! Here, trust is not an intuition about how the universe really works; it is manipulative. We are told, “trust doesn’t demand a moral absolute—only absolute consistency.” (p 175)
Hogshead begins by disposing of free will. The person we fascinate (manipulate) is our basic zombie, and we must discover and trigger the knobs that control it:
In fact, free will doesn't come into it:
This sort of thing used to be called the occult, but Darwin’s crack troops soon ride to the rescue on behalf of “science”. Let’s start with a sense of humour. Darwinism explains all that:
This kind of talk comes easy with a six- or seven-figure income. In reality, there is nothing remarkable about sick, starving or otherwise desperate people laughing at the difference between “is” and “ought” in our universe. That, by the way, is the traditional explanation for our sense of humour -- we laugh at the naked emperor whose "clothes" everyone is forced to praise. But that perennial explanation assumes that we have thinking minds and free will. By contrast, impressing a female is the only possible explanation for a Darwinian like Hogshead, given her commitment to merely material explanations.
In fairness, much of Fascinate is your standard convention power lunch pep talk. But its basic message, eked out with EP examples, is: “Fascinating people and companies win”, not reliable ones. If marketing executives are listening, grip your wallet tight.
How far does Hogshead take her message? Pretty far; here are some of her guides to success, randomly chosen:
Huh? Does this writer really not know that millions of her fellow Americans crave the goods of strip malls in vain? One is reminded of Samuel Johnson’s 18th-century rebuke to a wealthy woman disgusted by the food stalls frequented by the poor: “Come, come (says he gravely), let’s have no sneering at what is serious to so many: hundreds of your fellow creatures, dear Lady, turn another way, that they may not be tempted by the luxuries of Porridge-Island…” Yes, many poor Americans are obese, but not from high end food.
Hey, wait a minute! America and the other common law democracies were built up by clear thought, hard work, saving, and vice avoidance. Thus, Walmart can proudly sell luxury chocolates to the poor; indeed, that’s our basic idea. Save the rest for Marie Antoinette.
Fascinate conveys the distinct sense, without coming right out and saying it, that there is no underlying spiritual reality in the universe. Perhaps brand managers lap up the author's message in desperation, to stay one step ahead of losing their jobs in a tanking US and European economy that is attracting the attention of China.
As the year winds down, this will surely count as one of the odder business books, so far is it outside the mainstream of customers’ perceived and actual needs. And yet, as I write, it is in the top 5000 at Amazon. Like I said, hang onto your wallets.
Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul.
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