This is the second in a three part blog series about how the big brands have tapped into the same parts of the brain that was originally reserved for religion, and ignoring the ethics of whether this is right or wrong, looks at how you can do the same.

In the last post, we saw why the top brands stopped promoting products in favour of promoting ideals. In this post, we look at why exactly this works.

People pay for what they want, rather than what they need

The last post ended with Apple fans being formally exposed as genuine religious zealots, people moving their families to Disney branded towns and Nike fans paying way over the odds for trainers. It’s a behaviour that we’re all pretty familiar with and the more cynical amongst us consider these people to be suckers who have fallen prey to advertising and aren’t getting any more benefit from their purchases than the average LIDL shopper. But is that the case? Well let’s look at why people do these things.

For me, one clue came in the form of a segment on BBC Radio Scotland a while ago (can’t find the link, so you’ll ahve to take my word for this:) which was talk about debt management.

It was talking about debt, why people get into debt, why there’ so much debt because of the current financial climate, what people can do about debt, and so on. However, the part that interested me was when it was talking about who people are indebted to.

It turns out that people are in debt for things like council tax bills, phone bills, electricity bills, humdrum everyday things that they should have known were coming.

It also turns out that in the majority of cases, it wasn’t that people were so impoverished that they couldn’t afford these basic essentials, it was more that they’d spent the money on other things instead.

Now, anyone who’s never been skint before would probably consider this to be a pretty counterintuitive thing to do: why would you risk bankruptcy, your home, your family’s welfare, or anything like that by indulging in ‘luxuries’ that weren’t relevant to what you actually need?


Well it depends on what we mean by the word “need”. A UN declaration that came from the Word Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, which was later refined into a paper called “Indications of Poverty and Hunger” by David Gordon defined ‘absolute poverty’ as the absence of any two of the following basic human needs:

  1. Food
  2. Safe drinking water
  3. Sanitation Facilities
  4. Health
  5. Shelter
  6. Education
  7. Information
  8. “Access to services”, which was a slightly undefined term

…which some people have taken to imply are the only things that people require in order to exist, and refusal to accept or take responsibility for these needs when they are available is your own fault.

However, in spite of this, it could be argued that pretty much every religion, cult, self help guide, motivational speaker, philosopher and psychologist will encourage people to seek more from life than these things.

So, what’s your point, hippy?

The point here is that we all know what’s good for us, and that involves doing more than just satisfying our basic needs. We all know what the terms ‘soul destroying job’ or ‘mind opening experience’ mean, even if we don’t subscribe to any particular ideology.

We have a mental requirement for things that go above and beyond our basic needs, even if it’s just something, anything new. This BBC Horizon documentary talks about how scores on creativity tests can increase by 15% just by making a sandwich in a different way:

A documentary by Derren Brown on Luck also came to the conclusion that luck isn’t a metaphysical force governing whether or not good or bad things happen to us, but instead that luck is the ability to be open to new things, which in turn open up new opportunities in our social lives, in business and for general personal development.

New things are character building

So as a result, we have an innate requirement for new things.

While this could be an opportunity to pontificate about why everyone should go out an open their eyes to the beauty and wonder of the world outside, instead I’m going to highlight how it’s more important that your advertising campaign should focus more on these things rather than how your product or service fulfils people’s needs – because people need more from what they spend their money on than you might think.

The more significant issue with these things can be cost. While the big brands are able to spend enormous amounts on sponsorships, promotion, advertising, social media and PR in order to get the basic messages that they are talking about across, some of the people reading this may not have the marketing budget of a multinational conglomerate. Some of you may need to focus more on getting sales rather than building up complex ideologies in people’s minds – so do the same rules apply?

In the final part of this series, I’m going to say that they do, talk about the easy way for you to do this, and specifically talk about the thing that you can do better than your marketing team.

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