Wednesday, December 9, 2015

1985 Called, They Want Their Coke Back: Marketing and the Common Man

The only ads that people look forward to are Super Bowl ads--they’re flashy, loud, and we expect them to be. It’s the only event where mankind and media alike come together and talk about what, at any other time of the year, is either a convenient time to search for a snack in the kitchen, or an ill-timed break from the action of your favorite show.

Because of this, the average person often feels pretty apathetic for ads and the marketers who created them. TV viewers perceive an ulterior motive, a slick-haired salesman with a bottle of snake oil and a smile. This, however, is the wrong profession. Marketers don’t sell snake oil, they sell solutions. If a marketer had a product that he didn’t sincerely believe solved a customer’s legitimate problem, he wouldn’t sell it. This is because a marketer’s purpose is not to push an unwanted product on an unwilling customer, but to create value. Think about it: most of the products you own, you value. Chances are there were marketers behind them, coming up with product ideas that would grace your living room, better clean your tub, or entertain your child. At the same time, they were the ones who delivered you the message and let you know there was a better way to do something. So although a marketer must turn a profit in order to keep his job, people should understand that a marketer’s real purpose is to start the dialogue between company and customer, because with this understanding, people can better participate in the conversation. It’s one worth having.

Ask Siri

The term “marketing,” for most people, is synonymous with advertising. This is true in that marketers do make ads, but this perception lacks perspective. Marketing, in its fullest sense, is a company’s concerted effort to foster communication with the consumer. It requires both hard data and intuition; numbers and gut feelings. Marketers have the task of combining numbers and intuition in an effort to peer into the Black Box of the consumer’s mind, but the consumer’s mind is a fickle thing (Swenson). It is difficult to open, and once open, to even understand what’s there: “What was good about that ad?” “What types of situations would you use this product?” “How much more likely are you to buy this product after watching this ad, on a scale of one to ten?” Researchers ask these types of questions, and countless others, in the hopes of making sense of the consumers’ mind and their wants and needs. Without these communicative insights, companies fly blind, and customers don’t get the product they want the company to make.
Given this critical facet of marketing, consumers and companies have a more dynamic relationship than a simple “Here’s a product, you should buy it.” A recent episode at Domino’s Pizza illustrates this powerful relationship. Trigger-happy tweeters with comments like, “This crust tastes like cardboard,” and “There is no love in this pizza,” convinced Domino’s to overhaul its entire recipe; the pizza itself drew no emotional connection, and no amount of advertising could create value for emotionless pizza (Domino's® Pizza Turnaround). The feedback thus served an important purpose: it kick-started a failing brand to rethink its offerings and caused it to ask itself the question, “Is our pizza worth something to our customers anymore?” Sometimes, the most effective marketing questions are the ones marketers ask themselves, but the Domino’s team didn’t leave it to just themselves. Domino’s was able to harness the voice of the people to peer into that finicky Black Box, asking questions and gaining answers in a dialogue that left both sides feeling satisfied.

"Newfangled Ideas"

If questions are part of the vocabulary of marketing, then marketing is the language. It is the guiding force of all trade because it has the words to facilitate the crucial communication between the almighty customer and the company. It uses words like “Please fill out this customer survey”; “What kinds of things do you value?; “How did you feel about our product after using it?” Gathering data and asking insightful questions are major parts of marketing today. But marketers also use words like “Nike: Just Do It.” and “Coca-Cola: Open Happiness.” Advertisements like these are the colorful, catchy product of questions, and are also the part of the marketing language that we most understand. And like any language, advertising has developed along with our modes of communication. Newspapers, telegraphs, telephones, email, the Internet, all have been harnessed to advertise and spread companies’ messages. Thus marketing is a social institution, and one in which social media and cell phones and all forms of communication (and people) play a part (“Chapter 1”).

"They Changed My Coke."
Languages have their pitfalls, too, and marketing is no exception. The most notable example is how it failed to prevent the furious consumer rebellion that New Coke’s release caused in the 1980s. With Coke’s market shares declining, the Coca-Cola company turned to market research to discover why. The team of marketers discovered that taste had been a factor in the company’s decline, and began developing a new formula that would lift Coke out of its dire straits. But in the process of asking questions, the marketers failed in one crucial aspect: they blindly trusted numbers and thus blinded themselves to the intuitive, human element of their profession. They did not tell the public that classic Coke would be removed from Coca-Cola’s product lineup, and they did not account for consumer loyalty to the classic, nostalgic Coke taste. So while consumers assumed that their favorite taste would stay, the company assumed that the classic taste was the problem (Smith). This misalignment of assumptions and failure of communication led to the loss of millions of dollars worth of revenue, and it remains a prime example of how not to market.

Ben Franklin, The Only Marketer on the $100 Bill

Pitfalls aside, marketing has existed without a name for thousands of years. It has permeated trade for as long as there have been people with something to sell and reason to buy—so nearly all of the history of civilization. In ancient Rome, some mosaics show bowls of fruit containing pineapples. But pineapples don’t grow anywhere near Italy. It must have been during one of Rome’s many conquests that a savvy conqueror saw the pineapple and recognized a market for it in the homeland. When Romans began buying them back home, it served as evidence of demand and communication from the consumer to the “company”: “We want more pineapples!” (Milani-Santarpia) The Silk Road in China served as an anciently glorified distribution channel whereby merchants would trade along the route and act as intermediaries until the product reached its final destination (marketing also concerns itself with actual distribution of the product); any ancient Chinese trader worth his silk would know to send his merchandise on the Silk Road (Mark). And in more recent times, Ben Franklin published the first magazine ad in his General Magazine in 1742 (“Ad Age Advertising”). Simply put, despite the term “marketing” not coming into use until the 20th century, traders and merchants and businessmen have been marketing since trade began.
It is true, suspicious characters exist in any occupation. Marketing, however, is a self-regulating profession; a pushy company could make a quick profit, but is unlikely to earn lasting, loyal customers; a cheating company is simply unlikely to last. Consumers play the largest part in ensuring that cheaters lose. Consumers are also the largest factor in how marketers communicate. People willing to have the conversation, answer the questions, and see the purpose behind it all are the ones who contribute to better products and better services, and better Super Bowl ads. It’s a boon, both ways.

"Ad Age Advertising Century: Timeline." Advertising Age Special Report The Advertising Century RSS. Ad Age, 29 Mar. 1999. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

"Chapter 1: The Meaning of Marketing." Bartels, Robert (1976) “The History of Marketing Thought,” 2 Ed. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Mark, Joshua J. "Silk Road." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Milani-Santarpia, Giovanni. "Ancient Roman Trade." Ancient Roman Trade. Mariamilani, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Smith, Scott, Ph.D. "Coca-Cola Lost Millions Because of This Market Research Mistake - Qualtrics." Qualtrics CocaCola Lost Millions Because of This Market Research Mistake Comments., 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Swenson, Michael. "Market Research Fall 2015." Marketing Management. Brigham Young University, Provo. 22 Sept. 2015. Lecture.

Photo/Video Credits
Domino's® Pizza Turnaround. Perf. Actual Domino's Employees. Domino's Pizza, 21 Dec. 2009. Web. Dec. 2015.

N.d. Game-Changer. Web. Dec. 2015. <>.

Newfangled Idea. Perf. Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel. BMW, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. Dec. 2015.

"They Changed My Coke" Pepsi, 29 Oct. 2007. Web. Dec. 2015.

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