Advertisers Are Not the Bad Guys
The world needs to figure out how to open for business and envision what the new, better normal might look like. This presents an opportunity for a pivotal change in thinking for the advertising industry.
The global economy must open again. We all agree. However, this must be done with thoughtful care, balancing science and safety with economic resilience and stability. Those of us in a position to help shape this reopening, leaders of businesses and consumers alike, can take this opportunity to use our spending power wisely. We have the power to make intelligent spending decisions, but will we?
As consumers, we are prompted by advertising. This, in turn, shapes our unconscious bias towards a particular brand. We may have been influenced by the ad that we saw as a child, during a Super Bowl or in a break during a favorite TV show. Those iconic images that we watched and the jingle tunes that we hummed became part of the American 20th-century culture.
Now we are in a new place, a new time. So far, the 21st century has given us memes to emulate and social media influencers to follow. We are being told that it’s not just the brand that we should aspire to own, but that the lifestyle, the look of the influencer and even the way they decorate, cook, dress and speak are attributes we should want to adopt as our own. In fact, we are being encouraged to supplant our lives and ourselves with those of the personae we are seeing.
As we move forward toward the reopening of society in an uncertain future, consider this influence in the midst of a crisis that is changing everything we know. We should question how the consumer susceptibility that shaped the unconscious bias of the 20th century has morphed into the conscious copy-cat lifestyle spending of the 21st century—and do we want to change it?
Having needs and being motivated to a better existence is an integral part of being human. One of the most famous American psychologists of the mid-20th century, Abraham Maslow developed a theory of a hierarchy of needs and desires, with the ultimate goal of satisfying the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. In brief, Maslow’s needs fall into two categories:
- Basic physical and psychological needs that need to be met for survival and coexistence with others in society. These include food, water, shelter, safety and security, love/family/community and esteem/dignity/independence.
We are motivated by survival to meet these primary level needs, and as they are met, the motivation decreases. For example, when you are hungry, you need to eat. Once that need is met, your motivation to find food decreases.
- Self-fulfillment needs that need to be met in order to achieve one’s full potential, including creative activities.
These needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.
So how did we get from the self-actualization need of achieving our fullest potential, to wanting to emulate an influencer’s look, eat as they do and own the same breed of dog they own? Is there depth and thought behind what they are promoting or is it just a thin veneer behind which there is not much substance beyond gaining followers and making money for themselves?
Aspiration to live a better lifestyle is a fundamental premise of a developed economic society, and advertisers know that. We want to live better. We want a better life for our children. The question that we can ask ourselves now is: What does that mean?
The post-COVID-19 world opens up by degrees, and the ideal end state of a Better Normal develops out of the rejection of the old normal. Our need for general well-being (basic needs) fulfilled, we will then look for the little luxuries to kick in. There are various roles to be filled as we move toward this Better Normal. We as consumers need to become more diligent about our purchases, with an eye towards quality, value, sustainability and the interests and good of the greater community. Business owners need to respond to this shift in the market, stepping up to address the balanced needs of society with the needs of the financial markets.
We look to business leaders collaborating with their advertising partners to shift how they address the societal needs so we can continue to transition from unconscious bias and influencer-driven decision-making to conscious, intelligent and impactful spending. Boards should be talking to their business leadership about how they can create an ethical reopening that will lead to sustainable growth and, at the same time, contribute to the common good. They are accountable.
Who will tell the stories of the companies both big and small who, throughout the pandemic, looked after their workforces to the best of their abilities? The companies who gave back to their communities. The companies who behaved ethically and who helped create the Better Normal by giving back. They need to be recognized and rewarded by consumer support.
Here is the chance for the advertising industry to affect the way the economy opens and develops. The advertising industry should be telling these companies’ stories. We, the consumers, want to know these companies’ stories. We have the spending power, and now we need to use it for the greater good.