We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Marketing


The comments on my article, Revealed: How Steve Jobs Turns Customers into Fanatics showed several tendencies. First, they proved my point about fanaticism, as many of the comments were knee-jerk reactions from Apple fans who assumed (incorrectly) that I was attacking Apple’s products. (Did they even read the post?) The reaction was comparable to whacking a hornet nest with a stick.

The more interesting common thread in many of the comments was “Apple doesn’t need marketing, their products sell themselves.” Put in more personal terms, some implied, “Marketing has no effect on me, I buy the products because they are the best.”

Although the impassioned comments by Apple true believers might not be typical of average consumers, I do think that many, many people share a common belief: “Marketing and advertising might influence other people, but not ME. I make my decisions based on what I need, and how well the product meets those needs.”

An acquaintance who shall remain nameless swears that the cover of a catalog has no effect on her purchases. She says she opens the catalog if she needs something, and either buys or does not buy based on the products and prices. Experienced catalog marketers know, of course, that cover design is a key variable. In my own direct marketing experience, different cover artwork and messages could produce a 25% boost in sales when tested in a statistically valid split run. I’m sure there are DMers out there who can cite even more profound effects.

Behavioral psychologists, neuroscientists, and other students of human behavior know that a huge portion of our decision processes are subconscious. (In The Buying Brain, Dr. Pradeep suggests that 99.9999% of our brain processing occurs outside our conscious awareness.) At Neuromarketing, a recurring theme of the research we report on is that unexpected factors influence behavior, and the experimental subjects are rarely aware that their behavior has been changed. Whether the experiments involve priming, branding, or other variables, people don’t acknowledge that their behavior has been affected by anything other than their rational and conscious thought processes.

Marketing denial isn’t a problem when it’s a consumer claiming to be immune to the effects of ads. It’s a different story, though, when that message comes from a business owner or executive who controls or influences budgets.

What’s your experience? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, do you still run into “marketing deniers?” Or are you one of the few totally rational buyers who is never influenced by marketing?

  1. Rosanna Tarsiero says

    Marketing denial has always existed! Why? Because like Emily Pronin showed in her studies, we have a lot of self-attribution biases, ranging from mere cognitive biases to social biases.

    Anyway marketing, when it is well done, exploits precisely the choice bias. I’ve noticed that the ones who claim they don’t “buy into” marketing usually emphasize choice – thereby ending up “buying into” marketing strategies and messages that focus on feeling great/intelligent/classy/refined after making the “right” choice.

    Conversely, the ones who believe that – essentially – people have “no choice” but to use their services (for example, funeral homes, or wedding planners) tend to downplay choice in their marketing efforts and use pushy strategy (because – they think – “it’s either me or the next one, so I better push the sale”).

    The funniest part is to watch or listen to them and witness how oblivious they are to it.

    I do fall for marketing, of course, but at least I’m aware of it 🙂

  2. Timbo says

    I know that marketing impacts on me. I consider myself to be one of the most media literate, psychologically aware and neuro aware people. I have spent much time learning about the techniques marketers and advertisers used and the science behind how they work. This may make me more immune that most, but I still consider myself a long way from fully immune.

    I am a Mac user too. Why? Their prices are not competitive with other market options for computers, phones, media devices with similar technical specs. I know I am paying a premium, but to what extent can I rationally justify that on grounds like the seamlessness of iPhone syncing, or factors I believe I rationally consider better for my needs with the Mac operating sytstem?

    And where do we draw the line between product and marketing? Products are designed for markets. Mac computers are beautiful looking boxes with a lot of the same components in as PCs inside. Is the design of the exterior part of the marketing or part of the product?

    Is serving our aesthetic sensibility a rational way to behave because humans have aesthetic sensibilities and it make us happier to meet them? Or is aesthetics only a process by which marketing and advertising can manipulate us away from more rational choices about how we spend our money?

  3. Jon Pol says

    Great article. I have an advertising agency and hear such comments every time with some that are still struggling to accept the fact that they’re not as smart or as independent minded as they like to think!

    Advertising works! Fact! If not how are you supposed to know where to spend your next holidays? Greece or Zambia? They all choose the former naturally! But that’s because Greece has gradually been selling itself as a tourist destination and Zambia though a great tourist attraction has only a tiny fraction of visitors as compared to Greece!

    If advertising doesn’t work, then how do you know the difference between a Nike and Avisa sneakers when they both have the same design, the same place of production- “Made in China” underneath it but different prices? Yet most often you’ll choose the Nike because who the hell is Avisa?

    Name: Avisa is a made up name- all rights not reserved!

  4. Gered says

    Good thoughts, and I like the posts before me. They made me chuckle since it further reinforced my belief that we’re not as smart as we think we are – even students of the mind and its functions.

    I rarely shop these days outside of the necessities (since I’m paying off graduate school loans), but in the off-chance that I’m shopping for a luxury (read: new clothes or a gift for someone else) it’s nice to see marketing at work in the minds of many I see in stores. Me? I usually recognize what’s happened up there, but only after it’s registered – as with most people.

    I think we give the consumer too much credit in recognizing marketing tactics; our problem as marketers are the few who recognize it and project it to the world.

    And Apple and its fanatics are a perfect example. Most Apple maniacs can’t tell you exactly why they have chosen to wage war on the PC world, they just do it and they find solace in the exuberant posts of other Apple-ites. They’ve fulfilled the Jobs prophesy, which manifests itself in revenues for Apple.

    Therefore, I believe very few consumers are “deniers” and even less recognize what’s going on before it’s too late.

  5. Kyle Morich says

    Roger, some great points. To answer your question, I talk to a lot of people who listen to the facts around unconscious consumer behavior, nod in agreement, and then say, “Yeah, but not my customers…” — our entire life experience is through the lens of the conscious mind, so there’s a knee jerk reaction to the idea that the unconscious mind controls the majority of our actions.

    We all love to point out the marketing strategies that don’t work, but I would argue the vast majority of campaigns and product designs that fall flat are too focused on appealing to the ‘logical and rational’ conscious brain that is presumed to be in control. The conscious mind can only access decisions that were made consciously. Anything unconsciously driven is inaccessible. More than likely, we can’t remember the advertising that works with the unconscious mind. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

    As far as Apple is concerned, I think they “get it” more than most companies in the marketplace. How many of us have ever read the manual for our iPod? People buy Apple products for a variety of reasons which may or may not be related to their advertising, but their marketing really begins by designing intuitive products that you don’t need think about.

  6. Diseño web says

    We think that always our decisions are totally rational. Far from reality.

    As you say, inconscious brain makes the decision for us many times and, to influence our behaviors, is more powerfull the emotional way than the rational.

    Great Post Roger!

  7. Roger Dooley says

    Wow, we have an amazingly rational bunch of people here! I’m guessing that if I change the title of this post to “Why Apple Needs Marketing” the tenor of the conversation would change dramatically!

    Timbo, your comment, “And where do we draw the line between product and marketing?” is right on the money. As we see in Why Expensive Wine Tastes Better, the product experience of consumers is altered at the deepest level by their expectations and beliefs about the product.


  8. Timbo says

    Thanks Roger for the link to ‘Why expensive wines taste better’ – very interesting!

    I wonder if the idea of mindfulness comes into it with consumption of some expensive products. With a $5 dollar bottle of wine, you’d knock it back without thinking. But with a $50 bottle you want to savour every sip, so it is much more mindful consumption and therefore more likely to trigger pleasure pathways in the brain.

    It is the reverse principle of how distraction and alternative focus approaches can be used in pain management.

  9. Brendon Clark says

    Good stuff. Thanks Roger.

    Social psychologists note how we are more likely to push back when we feel our freedom has been threatened. Witness the Apple vs Mac vitriol. Interesting ingroup/outgroup situation. Made me wonder if Roger was experimenting on his readers…

    Also, as noted, who will ever admit to buying a premium priced item just because their friends did, or because they just love how it looks or, perish the thought, that it made me feel good about myself even though it’s just a machine and I couldn’t possibly be that needy, could I?

    Therefore, I will absolutely flat out deny that my decisions are anything but logical.

    However, for all the personal puffery I feel because I own one, whatever it is, we could be well served by an old bit of advice, author forgotten – We would worry less about what others thought about us if we realised how seldom they actually do!

    Cheers Roger

  10. Armando Alves says

    Marketing is thus based on the Heisenberg principle:
    The act of measurement always disturbs the object measured


  11. Mark says

    Apple is marketing, it has been for decades.

    Do people really think that all those overnight queues and waiting lists for the latest iphone or ipad were not about marketing?

    Give them the tip: If you were in the queue, you’re a victim of marketing.

    If you pre-ordered or were on a waiting list, you were marketed to.

  12. Michael de Louwere says

    This post leaves me with a few questions,
    1) What’s the author’s opinion about Derren Brown’s exposing marketeers to subliminal influence. (Is it real?)
    2) Since actually making a (buying) decision is a conscious action (.. right?) then how is that balanced with the unconscious attraction?

    By the way, I just finished reading “The Culture Code” which clarifies a few things about unconscious marketing.

  13. Michael de Louwere says

    And by unconscious I mean sub- or in-conscious..

  14. Doug Beckers says

    Roger, I think one of the key elements to being a successful marketer ie, converting leads into sales, is having the ability to determine if one campaign is better that another.

    That is, being able to “split test” different strategies and then apply a statistical test to the results to determine if the results are in fact a result of chance, or because of a legitimate difference in a marketing strategy.

    If you have a wordpress blog, did you know that you have the ability to undertake “split testing’ with free google software?

    The real trick is to then take the results and interpret them correctly.

    Keep up the great thought provoking articles.


  15. Jeff Palmer says

    You’re kidding right? Apple is all about marketing! It’s brilliant marketing. It’s the kind of subtle but strong influential tactics that develop loyal followers and allow Apple to create market share out of thin air. Apple isn’t a product, it’s a brand.

  16. Erik Johnson says

    Steve Jobs knows marketing but one law if particular. The Law of the Mind. Most Apple products are not the first to the market but are first in the mind. My advice: If you have a great hardware/software product try to stay stealth and gain traction as long as possible.

  17. Ashley says

    @Brendon – you asked, “who will ever admit to buying a premium priced item just because their friends did, or because they just love how it looks?” I will! I cheerfully admit that I bought a Mac, even though I find PCs much easier and more intuitive to use, simply because I thought the “Mac vs. PC” ads and brand in general were so brilliant.

    Of course, I then use this example to prove that I’m not unconsciously affected by marketing – that I’m still consciously choosing when and when not to buy into it. Whether that’s quite true or not, I am a marketer, and do think it’s probable that marketers are more aware of marketing’s affects. Possibly it even works in reverse – that people who are naturally slightly more aware tend to careers in the field.

  18. maria leopoldina says

    I’m not a Neuromarketing expert but I will venture to give an opinion. Apple is without doubt a very strong brand, once that has built innovative ideas in design, software, art and graphic interfaces. It has influenced marketers, advertising professionals in big Agencies and studios, for years. The Apple passion is balanced with the unconscious attraction by Beatle production “Old Apple” that has made a revolutionary transition for generations. Traditional global companies have fear of highlighting great creative leaders in media, although these companies have been bigger in market share, now they don’t have chance against the mass sentimental emotion. Jobs has claimed credibility for fans, the product can not be the best, but is the first in innovative powerful Status. @ceo_leopoldina

  19. Roberts Howard says

    Like most of us, I would like to produce the same intensity of emotion for our clients as Apple has managed to producce over the years. Aside from the stunning 1984 commercial from Chiat/Day and Ridley Scott, Apple’s ads appear to be indistinguishable from the advertising of the eras in which they were made. For a chronology, go to http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/09/the-evolution-of-apple-ads/ and you’ll be underwhelmed.

    After the 1984 commercial (when they saw it previous to airing, they hated it and were overcome with fear to the point that they tried to sell the ad space at a bargain rather than have something so anti-establishment attached with their name). They really didn’t know what to do with the “right on, brother” response and didn’t follow up in any of their other advertising. It was much later that the story circulated how Jobs and Woszniak, the two brave iconclasts against the establishment types at Apple, vowed to pay for the ad from their own personal fortunes.

    Knowing the actual chain of events, that seems fanciful and totally contrived from whole cloth.

    Although the term “evangelism” had been bandied about, much of Apple’s success in creating acolytes can be laid to Guy Kawasaki who understood the term and techniques from attending the Billy Graham School of Evangelism. There it was, plain and simple, laying the foundations of a new religion. Much of his success he admits to blundering into ideas at the right time. Being the bright fellow he is, he saw the potential, all the while admitting that it was not thought through that well.

    To dispel any implications of cynicism, Kawasaki flatly stes, “I believe in God because there’s no other explanation for Apple’s continued survival.” Interesting perspective from the inside.

  20. James says

    What bugs me the most about this discussion is the implication, in at least one of the posts, that we may not be “SMART” enough to resist the siren call of marketing. I resent this. I’m smart as hell, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be marketed to. In fact, Marketing (perhaps I should call it “marketing”) that respects my smarts, or at least seems to think I’m smart (or, alternatively, at least doesn’t treat me like I’m stupid) is likely to go further with me than Marketing which does not.

    Moreover, as a former and still sometime Marketer (I don’t have any idea what a MarketEEr is, but I suspect it involves airplanes and parachutes, or funny ears, and I’ll have none of it), I resent the idea that Marketing appeals to, how shall I say it (?), somewhat lower functioning persons. I can’t speak for anybody else, but when I market, I assume my target is at least as smart as I am, and while I haven’t learned a whole lot over the span of my life, I HAVE learned that people mostly resent when talk to them as if they’re stupid.

    Possibly people don’t like Marketers, Marketing, and Marketing-related topics because a lot of the people who bandy these words and concepts about don’t seem to have very much respect for the people to whom they’re, um, “marketing.” And that’s a damn shame.

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