Voodoo curses. Belief systems. And Apple, naturally.

by greg stene

My wife and I had and encounter with voodoo on our vacation and it has a lot to do with advertising. I say this in such a direct manner because another comment I made in this column was taken to task because (the writer said) that column had nothing to do with advertising. But it had a lot to do with advertising. Just not in a typical manner.

I appreciate that person’s thought. It points to the fact that we live in a world where advertising commentary is generally quite limited to and defined by:

  • effects (was the ad effective?),
  • social implications (did the ad make someone buy something they couldn’t afford; or did the ad make young girls believe superskinny is the right body image?),
  • advertiser responsibility (see “social implications,” above)
  • creativity (was the ad creative and why and was the creativity appropriate?)
  • and other quite narrowly tailored, very traditional avenues of exploration.

We rarely see voodoo and advertising tossed together, and the world is a lot the poorer for not seeking out such connections. If anything, advertising is the sole true arena of creativity in this world of ours, and it would be strange to believe that advertising and voodoo would not eventually come together.

They did. In a motel room of a major chain. After nearly two weeks on the road and a long day of 13 hours driving. 12 midget choco-covered donuts. An irritated colon. Anything could happen in those circumstances. I made sure some things did not occur. I countered the voodoo curse with a blessing of my own.

***

We started to pull the bedspread down and off the bed to toss it onto a chair in a corner because no person in his right mind would let that partyplace for bugs, germs and parasites to lick at their face while they’re sleeping.

As the bedspread was pulled down, we discovered a penny in the dead center of the bed, on top of the blanket. It was face up, with the top of the head pointed to the head of the bed.

Voodoo. Consider. Most people don’t pull the bedspread off. Most people would just crawl into the sheets and sleep the night away, unaware that a curse was working its way into their soul by way of the cursed penny between the blanket and bedspread.

I immediately grabbed the penny and tossed it into the trash. I went to the pockets of my jeans and pulled out a dollar coin, trumping the worthless penny (you get dollar coins from the Portland transit system and I had about five of them handy). I placed the dollar coin where the penny had been and quietly dismantled the curse left by the penny-person (and also killed off any blessing that might have been left, because I don’t need any other person’s idea of a blessing working its way into my life).

I popped the blanket with my open palm, the dollar coin flew a few inches into the air, I caught it and returned it to my pocket.

I slept better that night than any other on the entire two-week trip.

***

So, what has this got to do with advertising (I’m predicting the question based on my earlier reader’s comment)?

It’s all a matter of belief. The effectiveness of voodoo is generally seen by the rational Western world as being not-magic, rather a matter of belief, with the victim’s active participation in the curse as the real effect-producing aspect of the curse itself. The person believes the curse is meant to kill him … he unconsciously finds some way to make that happen … he begins to eat less, starving himself; he becomes distracted by the curse and walks in front of a bus; he becomes overwrought by the curse and may even suicide to relieve himself of the never-ending anxiety. [Of course, that lays him open to being dug up out of his grave later and turned into a zombie, which is a whole different story.]

That sort of thing.

Advertising is also a matter of belief. Where the consumer’s belief in the promises made in the ad is the active effect-making part of the system. Orbit gum promises clean teeth, and if you believe in the promise, you buy the gum. Amusement destinations promise a family fun experience. The family comes, believing in the promise of fun, and they find fun.

Advertising is nothing more than gentrified voodoo. It sets up people for belief in the promises made, and the consumer brings the completion of the promise to the experience.

However, this belief aspect to advertising is not often considered in strategies in the business. We think of the targets and what they’re made of and how they live their lives.

We set goals for sales and we develop rational ways the target might get involved in the product and how the advertising may enhance that.

But we rarely talk straight-out about whether people believe in the promises made, and what we need to do to create and enhance that belief. Most times, it seems that the convincing argument part behind an ad that makes a promise is completely missed. Orbit will make my teeth clean? Why should I believe that promise? Why should I believe my family will have fun at the amusement park? Many ads fail to deliver a reason to believe.

It would seem that advertising could learn a lot from voodoo. Voodoo works on belief systems, if you buy into the rational Western take on it. Advertising seems to be built on the idea that simply because it says something, we’ll believe it. We don’t.

Belief is why Apple is kicking the PC’s butt these days, relatively speaking. I use a PC. It’s just a commodity. A thing. A tool. There’s nothing there to believe in. I work around people who use Apple products. They believe. They believe in the company, the history, the culture, Steve Jobs, and their own individual Apple device.

Apple is voodoo. Apple is the penny hidden under the bedspread. Apple is belief.

9 comments on “Voodoo curses. Belief systems. And Apple, naturally.

  1. You want to talk about the voodoo (although I prefer voudoun) corollary to advertising? Look at the beauty industry. I’m not talking about who’s targeted, who’s responsible for whose self-image, any of that. I mean the unsupported, untested, completely batshit claims made by every major cosmetics company for thousands and thousands of products, particularly the vast panoply of anti-aging goop. Every bit of information needed to shop intelligently for skin care products is readily available; most consumers, if asked outright, will admit that they DON’T BELIEVE the hype surrounding the $180 one-ounce bottle they’ve JUST BOUGHT. And there it is, in their hands and on their credit cards.

    Sorry about the caps outbreak, but it makes me insane. If this is not pure magical thinking, I don’t know what is.

    But how did you know what the penny was?

  2. For my line of biz (music), no voodoo. The G5 is faster.

    Hopefully the sounds that I organize inside the G5 is voodoo. So far it seems to be the case, working diabolically in this world toward my own fiendish, chthonic purposes.

  3. Euphrosyne,

    So where would you find said information on skincare/beauty products? All the websites I’ve found are pushing their own agenda: we take money from the manufacturers, we want to push our own private line of products, etc.

    Lara Amber

  4. Wow! Gotta say I loved the whole thing up and until you started talking about a corporate product being driven by more belief than features. Great introduction to superstitious behavior as well. However, I must take you to task on the APPLE ™ is belief statement. I worked in the tech field for way too long, and have supported the following platforms/OS’s. Novell, MicroSoft DOS and Windows, Unix, HPUX, and Apple’s OS. I will grant you that all of them have some problems with regard to uptime, and ease of use by the end-user. I will grant you that in many cases, Intel/IBM machines were priced very affordably compared to machines that ran unix, like SUN boxes. I will however state categorically that if you do not have specific software that can ONLY be run on a PC, you will be happier and more productive on a Mac running OSX. When I got out of the support industry, I became a switcher, and I’ll never go back to cumbersome, slow, hard to fix, unreliable PC’s. NEVER. I’ve had to reboot my Mac Laptop running OSX10.4 exactly twice in the past year. Both times I had to do this was because I needed to install new software that demanded it. There are no PC users who can make the same claim unless they are lying.
    Sorry, belief don’t enter into it. It’s bleed’n seafood flavor mate. :-)

  5. Vlad – the vast majority of engineering software runs on PC or Unix, so there’s no option for EEs like me (or most chemical engineers, optical engineers, mechanical engineers, or any other engineer type I’ve worked with over the years) to use Mac, regardless of whether Apple is awesome or not.

    Until Apple can convince all the business software providers (and I don’t mean marketing) to provide Mac options for their software, Apple will forever remain a toy, regardless of how powerful it is.

  6. Lara, there’s a woman who started investigating product claims oh, ages ago, and has written several books – she is severely unpopular with the industry, of course. She now has her own line of skin care and cosmetics; however, her investigative work long predates her own venture, and she still regularly reviews other companies. She also goes directly to the source – the research laboratories and reports – and maintains a very impressive ingredient directory which is regularly updated. Here’s the link:

    http://www.cosmeticscop.com/learn/cosmetic_dictionary.asp?id=6&letter=A

  7. Sorry to inform you Brian that almost every Unix package I’ve seen runs compiled under OSX. It’s Unix under the cute graphical interface, and with the CLI will preform most SW tasks quite well. Sun’s movement to Open Source is allowing most of their proprietary SW to be ported, and if it can be run on Linux, it can be run in OSX. And for those packages which cannot be run except under Windows, use one of the emulators, load up your software, and switch on the fly, and get better performance and reliability than on a native Windows box.
    As for convincing all the business software providers, I don’t think Apple will care. They will rely on MS shooting itself in the foot as they have done with Vista to make their case for them.

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