People Are Curvaceous Souls

Once upon a time people lived in a state of positive expectations. There were relatively few products, great demand and most products enjoyed high brand differentiation. This was circa 1960, when most marketing models in use today were developed, like the purchase funnel, which measures advertising effectiveness.

The world has since changed dramatically. And, despite the rise of digital and the economic downturn, most old marketing axioms are still operative, miring marketers in an approach designed for a bygone era.

Take the relationship between supply and demand -- it's reversed. Today demand is scarce, supply plentiful. Second, over the past half-century we have learned so much about how people engage with brands.

We now understand that people are not two-dimensional data to be manipulated by coupons or the latest hot-button offer. Current anthropological, linguistic and neuro-scientific evidence demonstrates that humans attach to things (product, person or idea) through a process of identification that coalesces longings at the personal and social levels.



Human behavior cannot be comprehended by the old-school logical conceptions of action. What Don DeLillo said about how he writes a book is true for life: "Things begin to happen just outside the range of the immediate action. There's very little sense of logic behind it.''

Life Is Not a Straight Line

Once we agree that life does not proceed in a straight line, marketers will need to accept tools that address reality. A case in point is the Purchase Funnel, an artificial construct that rears its head at most new business meetings, proclaiming: Awareness, Consideration, Preference, Action, Loyalty. But people Are Not Linear.

When one considers consumers as people, one immediately appreciates that logic is a puny force in the face of emotion and belief. Identity trumps interests and narrative transforms products into relevant stories crafted by one's own brand of meaning. In this Cuisinart-like, improvisational, non-linear process, awareness does not precede consideration, then tumble into preference and finally into action.

Zig-Zagging to Attachment

In actuality, the attachment process carves a zig-zag route in the service of emotional reasoning as people make symbolic associations with what is familiar, participatory and self-expansive in their image of the product. Only if and when the product is successfully transformed into a personally meaningful idea, does manufacturer reap the benefit of one's loyalty to self. This process can take time, or immediately convulse, but the best a marketer can hope for is a spasm of sentiment that bears no logical relationship to product attributes.

Note what two people say about Apple's iPhone. "Apple is a smile. It makes me smile. I'm a happy person. Apple and me are the same." "The iPhone, like Apple, is a circle, it's smooth and glides. It's easy and feels good. All other phones are boxes; they have corners and squares, are highly structured, have many rules, are too technical and linear. The iPhone is fun and natural and let's me do my own thing." Purchase Funnel vs. Yellow Brick Road

The emotional logic of human longing is as merciless as the laws of gravity, but more curvaceous. The time is right for marketers to comes to terms with the meanderings of authentic life, and reflect back to people their true nature: poised and unsettled, majestic and mundane, courageous and hesitant, marooned and moored, tough and tender.

Only then will marketers share in attracting people while, at the same time, having people soar.

Marketers must respect people as curvaceous souls, and supplant the purchase funnel with the idea of The Yellow Brick Road. This will both re-humanize advertising and make it, again, a cultural act. Then people may incline towards more products and once again love advertising as they did in the era of Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy.

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