Posted by Meredith McGuire

Sex Sells! Says Who??

2021-05-08

  • Sex Sells! Says Who??

Sex Sells! Says Who??

A cute double-foxtail shaped into a coffee bean under old-fashioned typeface evokes a sense of charm, establishment and values of one-hundred years ago.

The funky type on the metal logo bar and the strap of my purse — stitched with repeated hearts, creating detail across the fabric — induces thoughts of sweet-but-edgy femininity, like a beautiful young woman with colorful tattoos running the lengths of her limbs.

The bank across the street with its severe lines, high-contrast colors and a hard-to-see image of a stagecoach and horses.

As I sit here on the patio of a local Orlando coffeehouse trying to figure out a way to enunciate a subject dear to my heart and mind, I am surrounded by marketing; and these are only three examples of over thirty establishments in my immediate vicinity, not to mention logos on parked cars and the multitudinous stickers decorating my laptop.

With 99.7% of all US businesses being categorized as "small businesses" and 82% of which fail due to issues with cash flow, it is unsurprising that nearly all small businesses are reliant upon social media for marketing but only 20% of these invest in content marketing, less than 30% use digital marketing analytics and only half of all small businesses utilize more than two marketing platforms.

That’s a lot of numbers, but what does it mean?

It means that, although you may be aware of a need for marketing, you may not know how to utilize it for the benefit of your business. In other words, your Facebook Page is bringing in remarkably few customers and you likely wouldn’t even know how to know if it was.

Setting aside the subject of creating regular content for your two marketing platforms, let’s talk about the approach to take when you do create it.

Peggy Olson:

Sex sells.

Don Draper:

Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. YOU are the product. You- FEELING something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

- Mad Men, Season Two

Mad Men, for all of its truth and beauty, is but a cliff notes version of a marketing course; nonetheless, if you know what you are looking for, there are plenty of very specific lessons that ‘real’ marketers will recognize. The beauty of Mad Men, for me, is that it not only shows the ways that marketers can accentuate (or even fabricate) a product’s features, it also demonstrates the psychology and the dichotomy between the lives and the successes of those who create impactful marketing. Which is to say: Those who can create convincing marketing are not often truth-tellers; and if you knew more about their personal lives, you may better understand this.

Marketing, as Don Draper explains, is indeed the ability to evoke a feeling in someone with the suggestion that the feeling came from the product and would be duplicated if you, also, had the same product. Such marketing is, as so many have accused for so very long, nothing more than lies, fiction, a pretty package on an ordinary (or inferior, or exceptional) product; and it arose — unsurprisingly — in the wake of psychological study in the early 20th century and has used psychology to find ways to convince people that they need certain products in order to elicit a specific response.

It is interesting to note in today’s (particularly young) consumers that, after over 100 years of exposure to psychology and psychological manipulation in their various forms (predominantly from marketing, if my estimations are correct), we are starting to figure out the lies. An increasing number of young influencers are rejecting and redefining cultural standards set up by marketers of yore — and are using today’s marketing outlets to do so. London-based blogger Chidera Eggerue (THE SLUMFLOWER) created and has moved forward the body-positive campaign #SaggyBoobsMatter, convincing thousands of women to abandon the bra industry in favor of natural, honest femininity. To think that one woman can so deeply affect a centuries-old, $7.2 billion / year business with her common-sense approach to fashion is astounding — and has already changed the types of bras offered by Victoria’s Secret, now offering a greater variety of sports bras and ‘bralets.’

For those ‘not skilled at marketing,’ this is obviously a good thing. Increasingly, people both within and outside of the marketing sphere talk about authenticity, sincerity, being genuine (search for "authenticity" in TED Talks to find several enlightening speeches). Increasingly, the mysteries of psychology are being exposed; increasingly, we are less satisfied with the image of happiness and seek for a definition and realization of true happiness and satisfaction.

We have elevated our eating standards to include organically-grown produce and ‘farm-to-table’ as the highest echelons of food for both flavor and health benefits — which really only rebrands the style of farming that existed prior to widespread chemical- and corporate-farming techniques begun in (oh look!) the mid-twentieth century.

We have returned to a standard of peer-reviewed products — which is how humans have determined the quality of anything, natural or produced, for time immemorial. (Consider the hunter-gatherer societies of early mankind who would see one person eating blackberries from a group of bushes and would, in turn, acknowledge that this food was both easy to gather and good to eat.)

Marketing — as we have come to understand the word — only worked because, prior to the mid-twentieth century when jet airplanes and telephones connected communities across the globe with unprecedented speed, most people’s ‘world of reference’ had been fairly small, consisting of family, friends and neighbors within a relatively-small vicinity. Those who came into that world from the outside were viewed skeptically until they had proven themselves — which only means that insiders had to come to know the personalities of outsiders so they could know how to interact. Unfamiliar products, as with people, might be believed for a moment — but only until that product was proven one way or the other.

All of this implies a knowledge of truth versus fiction, of honesty versus dishonesty — and it is less rather than more often that people are ignorant of this self-preservation skill passed from generation to generation.

Mankind has not changed at the core since our beginnings; only language has changed, definitions have been altered, superficialities adapted. In relation to marketing, this means: We still drink coffee. We just drink a different brand with different lettering and beans grown and roasted perhaps in another part of the world; whether it is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than at any point in the past is hard to know because of the lifespan of coffee.

What does this all amount to and how does one go about marketing their particular brand of coffee in a world full of coffee, coffeeshops and other beverages?

I return to the title of this article: Honest Marketing is NOT an Oxymoron; it is a revolution, an evolution. It is a return to our core natures, to our core values (speaking specifically of humans as a communal species who depend upon one another for our mutual survival).

Here are a few basic tips for the average small business owner whose forte is not marketing:

  1. If you must market for yourself, be honest, transparent about your product. Yes, as honesty is still a renewing value, you will likely encounter skepticism — but this is where so many successful small businesses have come to rely upon truthful peer-to-peer reviews, both online and between friends and family.
  2. Understand that, as Don Draper explains to Peggy, it is not sex that sells, but the feeling that is associated with it and the ability to express that feeling. What does this mean to you, as a business owner? BE HONEST. You know what you feel; say it. You know how your product performs; explain it. And, if you don’t know how to express these things, you likely need to find someone with a command of language who can. (This, as Draper states, is what ‘we’ marketers do.)
  3. Being able to accept that your product may not be for everyone will further help you to be more transparent and focus on reaching and speaking to those people who will be receptive to it, rather than trying to ‘market’ your product by convincing people that they have a need for it when a) they don’t and b) you’re not good enough at manipulating people into thinking that they do.

It is perhaps difficult to remove ourselves from the methods used by large corporations for over half a century based on the very fact of how humans learn from those we deem ‘successful.’ Success, however, is fleeting in the long game of humanity: Such "successes" as Dole Foods are being forced to adapt their growing methods because of the resurgence of ‘organically-grown’ foods; Burger King is now serving and marketing their plant-based Impossible™ Whopper® because of the upsurge of vegetarian, vegan and low-meat diets.

If there is something to learn from such corporate giants, it is that they have learned to listen to their customers and adapt their products and marketing to include their customers’ demands.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that this is how these companies are surviving after nearly-to-over a century in business, whereas most small businesses are truly in their infancies; the demands may be as dramatically different as the budgets.

So, remember: It is not your cute logo nor the excellent quality of your product nor even how hip your product may be to the demands of your market that will convince consumers to buy your product. We’re all smarter now, as we’ve had to learn to be now that there are simply so many products available - so the best chance you have to connect with the customers who will truly be interested in spending their hard-earned money on your product is to be as simple and straight-forward as possible. If you are truly different, it will be the product’s inherent sexiness that sells, not the ability to make it seem sexy.

Meredith McGuire

Meredith McGuire

I am, in all I do: Adaptive, ethical, creative, hard-working, diligent, organized, methodical, transparent, honest, curious.
And, above all, I believe that workplaces contain a series of relationships based on values and goals; and, when those values and goals are in tandem, those relationships and businesses thrive. When they are not in tandem, some must leave, or the businesses will fail.

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