Note to Clients: Advertising Isn’t About you

I know, I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow. And something a lot of our clients struggle with. But the sooner you can grasp this idea, the sooner you can actually start reaping the benefits of advertising rather than fruitlessly spending your money, getting frustrated over the lack of results and subsequently firing your agency (ouch).

But who’s it about if not you?

Any guesses?

It’s really not a difficult question…

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Time’s up. And the answer is… your consumers, of course! (Which you obviously knew already.)

To understand this shocking revelation, we first aim to understand why consumers choose to buy products in the first place.

So why do they buy products, you ask?

Well, why don’t you ask yourself that very question. Take a look around you, and find something you’ve bought recently. Now ask yourself, “Why did I buy that?”

Here, I’ll give you an example of my own. As I write this, I’m looking out across my desk at my feet (which, yes, are on the desk) and the footwear on them, which happen to be a pair of black, high-top Converse All Stars. So I ask myself, “Why did I buy these shoes?”

Long story short — I love music, and growing up, I wanted to be a musician. I noticed a lot of the artists I listened to wore these afore mentioned shoes. So, naturally, I thought if I too had these shoes, there would be nothing separating me from rock ’n’ roll glory (because it definitely wasn’t because of the whole “lack of talent” thing). You see, I didn’t buy Converse because they had a rich history, or because they made amazing quality products or because of anything they did, frankly. I bought them because of what wearing Converse would say about me as a person and how it would help me become the rock star I so aspired to be — or as psychology calls it, achieve self actualization.

Now, if you’ve ever taken a class in psychology, you’ve no doubt heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the idea of self actualization. But if you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell:

From famed psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Maslow lays out five different stages of needs that explain our behavior, with self actualization being the pinnacle — meaning the achievement of our full potential and feeling fulfilled in life.

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When applied to the world of advertising, we can infer that the reasoning behind the products consumers choose to buy is that they believe it will enable them to advance up the hierarchy and ultimately achieve the goal of self actualization.

So what does this mean for you?

Simple. It means that consumers don’t care about and aren’t motivated by anything you do. It means they don’t care if you’re the biggest, or the best, or you have this benefit or that feature. It means they only care about how you will help them achieve their full potential as a human being and reinforce their sense of self. So stop telling consumers about you, and start telling them about themselves.

And if you’re looking for more proof, look no further than the advertising industry’s oft-quoted and much beloved Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk (hint: fast forward to about the 10-minute mark and you’ll see exactly what I mean).