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 personâ€™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 couldnâ€™t afford; or did the ad make young girls believe superskinny is the right body image?),
- advertiser responsibility (see â€œsocial implications,â€ 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 theyâ€™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 donâ€™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 donâ€™t need any other personâ€™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 (Iâ€™m predicting the question based on my earlier readerâ€™s comment)?
Itâ€™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 victimâ€™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 â€¦ he unconsciously finds some way to make that happen â€¦ 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 consumerâ€™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 theyâ€™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, weâ€™ll believe it. We donâ€™t.
Belief is why Apple is kicking the PCâ€™s butt these days, relatively speaking. I use a PC. Itâ€™s just a commodity. A thing. A tool. Thereâ€™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.