The Anthropology of Advertising

Advertising. Marketing. Sales. Are they different? Are they the same? Are they an evolvement from one to another?

This is the kind of stuff I think about. Especially now that I'm learning and mastering permission marketing. I believe that they're incremental evolutions along a linear path. Also, my anthropology background plays into this question and into my career. Which is a big motivator for asking the question.

Let's digress a bit... Anthropologically speaking, when one culture meets another culture for the first time there is an exchange of information. Visual mostly. As neither one can yet speak the other's language. So even though familiarity grows, understanding does not. The understanding comes with communication. So the two cultures have to work together to break the communication barrier. Then once they do that true understanding can occur.

This is where the fun begins because they can start trading customs and technology. Remember technology is a tool such as a comb or toothpick as much as it is “code” or silicon based micro chips. Technology is anything that a culture comes up with to do something. So the problem here is that a piece of technology that makes sense to one culture makes no sense to another. Holistically speaking any factor that you can think of probably played into the development of that tool but only within that culture. So when it's introduced to another there is no perspective. Also, they didn't develop it because they didn't have a need or cured the need in their own unique way. So the culture introducing this new tool or technology has to explain or demonstrate it, with good intentions, to help the other culture. More often than not the tool or technology gets changed by the new culture as they adapt it to meet their needs and world view. Long story short, culture A may use a shot gun for hunting, introduce it to culture B and find culture B using it to hold doors open. They're both addressing needs with the same technology but in completely different ways.

Now back to the point... If you consider the digression above then my next point really makes sense. When someone comes up with an idea in today's society they want to spread the word and sell it. Classic sales/advertising/marketing is what? Create a need. Well if we make a business analogous to culture A and the market they are trying to penetrate culture B then we can start to see the proof that all three are related cousins in a chain of evolution. So they have to do the progression: first contact, visual cues, language barrier, communication, sharing, understanding, needing and then using. That's where sales/advertising/marketing come in. It's an attempt for one “culture” to introduce another “culture” to this wonderful new tool/technology that is going to change your life. It's all social. It's people, culture, markets, society.

So here's my thought... Sales led to advertising led to marketing. I think social forces caused this. If we remember that all three exist to speak to people it's natural to assume that society will decide what works for them. In fact that's the point. Everything we've responded to has worked. Everything. The problem is once it works everyone does it, saturates it and finally makes us numb to it. So being the social critters that we are we change it to stick out. We like to be seen, heard, understood and known. So selling was first. Door-to-door. On the street corner. Traveling shows and carnivals. It worked, it got saturated, it got exploited and then it got annoying. Soap, vacuums, shoes and whatever else at your door. While you're home. Invading your space. Interrupting your life. We stopped responding. So then this box appeared in everyone's house that contained content. The whole family spent nights in a week in front of it socializing and being entertained. Finding out what was going on. Learning. It was... the radio. Which became a TV. Which became the Internet. But it was the radio we can thank (or blame) for the evolution of sales into advertising. Now they held us captive. Subsidized the content being shipped to us over the airwaves. Sponsors, brough-to-you-bys, anything. It worked. Plus the sales forces were still out there, so now it was a two-pronged attack. So it saturated and got noisy and there was no distinction again. No distinction... no “brand”... WAIT! Branding!!! Shaazam! Marketing was born.

Marketing is the anthropology of advertising. It was an inevitable occurrance. It's the science of introducing a new concept to a new culture. Using it's ancestors: sales and advertising. Marketing is a scientific discipline with an alchemistic bent. It's wizardry that uses math. Whatever. It's effective. Why? It works really hard to introduce something, make it understood and then get it used. Again, this was effective. Logos, slogans, viral marketing, product placement, guerilla tactics, clever, clever, clever. People responded, it got saturated and exploited and then it was ineffective. Oh, and costly. We got numb again. No, better, we got smart and paid to have content cleansed. TiVo, Satellite radio. Enough said. But remember this whole process is social. We want to be in the know. We want to be included. We want to interact with others. So TiVo is lonely. Satellite radio is lonlier. We like the content free of interruptions. But we need to know. Permission marketing. Via the Internet. On your terms. You pick the sales person that knocks on the door you want at the time you want with the information you want. The advertising and marketing are all built in to that person's one call on you. This is the new effective tool. People will respond. It will get saturated. It will be exploited. Then we'll be on to something else. But right now, in the moment, I'm here to give you what you want, when you want it by getting to know you and being relevant. While at the same time offering an exchange of value. I will give you something in exchange for you letting me know even more about your wants, desires and needs. I'll get permission from you to market these wants, desires and needs. On your terms. Always exchanging value.

Now, not only has culture A broken the communication barrier with culture B, culture B is getting value from the exchange. Culture B is being rewarded for revealing more and more about itself to culture A so that the two cultures can meet in the middle very productively. This is something to consider as you start to take a client to the next level in marketing, advertising succes. As you design a solution from collateral to a marketing plan using their business strategy keep in mind that the consumer is smart and will want value in exchange for its receptiveness to your clients' message. The proof that this is taking off and you should pay attention to it is the proliferation of “Rewards Cards”. A consumer must sign up for them and the more savvy programs offer basic rewards, with more elaborate rewards and point structures offered as the customer reveals more and more about themselves through their profile, surveys and other information collecting tactics that can be deployed with an online user account! This is a fun new trend that should be discussed especially since variable data digital printing can let a print designer tap into this valuable data if their client is or should be doing a permission marketing program.