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Toxic marketing tactics turn away the customers you want

Do you know the cliche about cliches — that they are rooted in some truth? The queen mother of cliches for sales and marketing is over promising and under delivering.

It’s an understatement to say marketing has changed a lot since the Mad Men era of advertising, when actors posing as doctors recommended cigarette smoking. Brand creators and advertising execs have had to “work harder” at creating a feeling of need, jealousy and inadequacy to get their audience to buy, buy, buy.

The top offenders? Beauty products, weight loss gimmicks and pharmaceuticals.

The future of marketing is about building trust. That’s why more companies are gravitating toward inbound marketing — a methodology for doing business grounded in information sharing, user-centered design and collaboration. Instead of pushing advertisements on the audience, it’s about creating value and earning the business.

Marketing built upon deception and manipulation won’t work in today’s instant messaging and social media centric culture because the audience is expecting it. After all, we are inundated by the same-old way of thinking.

Airbrushing in beauty ads is a form of gaslighting due to its deceptive marketing 

Women’s magazines come under fire for airbrushing otherwise gorgeous models to have unattainable body types, flawless skin, bigger eyes … whatever is considered the beauty ideal of the moment. A few years ago, a L’oreal digital ad popped up on my screen. I laughed out loud. Penélope Cruz Sánchez was the model and she was so over-the-top airbrushed, she looked like a cartoon.

These shady marketing tactics are meant to manipulate its customers while grooming an entire generation of new customers into thinking they aren’t good enough, that they need these products to be a better version of themselves.

Today, there is a name for this type of marketing. It’s called gaslighting.

What is gaslighting?

gaslight movie starring ingrid bergmanAccording to Psychology Today, gaslighting is “an insidious form of manipulation and control, which derives its name from a 1938 play, ‘Gas Light,’ and a film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman. The victims of gaslighting are misled with false information and forced to doubt what they know to be true, even about themselves.”

gaslighting marketing ad madmen eraThe term gaslighting has become a hot topic since the 2016 heated presidential election. Donald Trump is widely criticized for spreading lies, name calling critics and denying empirical evidence. If you Google “gaslighting,” an infinite sea of headlines come up linking Trump to gaslighting.

However, where are the plethora of articles about gaslighting in marketing? Marketing and advertising agencies have been the worst gaslighters in history.

The Mad Men TV show did an excellent job portraying the behind-the-scenes life of 1960s advertising executives struggling to create ad campaigns for companies amid cutthroat competition. Many ad campaigns of this era are known for perpetuating misogynistic messages and for creating a culture of exclusivity that engineered the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality.

Fast forward to recent history. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission went after Volkswagen for its self-described “clean diesel,” which was later revealed that VW cheated on its emissions tests. “Red Bull gives you wings” marketing campaign resulted in a $13 million pay-out because Red Bull paired its 20-year-old tagline with promises that the energy drink improved concentration and reaction. Olay had a public relations nightmare on its hand in 2009 when its Definity eye cream ad starring famous 1960s model Twiggy with a face free of wrinkles made headlines for digitally manipulating her photos.

How has gaslighting changed marketing?

Gaslighting sums up why marketing and sales rank among the lowest when it comes to honesty and ethics in professions, sharing space with … wait for it … politicians.
It’s why the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 was passed to force Internet, radio, television and print ads to be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.

Is it any wonder why today’s audience doesn’t trust marketing and sales messages? Consumers have been inundated with emotionally abusive advertising messages for so long they crave authenticity. They don’t want pushy sales techniques that waste their time.

Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah are the forefathers of inbound marketing and the brains behind HubSpot, marketing and sales software, continuing education and methodology. Their annual Inbound marketing conference attracts tens of thousands and has included such powerful keynote speakers as first lady Michelle Obama; award-winning writer and producer Shonda Rhimes; and renowned health guru Deepak Chopra. I attended the 2018 conference held in Boston, and it was a game-changer for my own marketing agency.

What does the future of marketing look like?

hubspot flywheel

I have always run my business with a customer-centric attitude — full transparency on prices, deadlines and deliverables; good communication with project updates; turning away customers who I knew I couldn’t service well. But several months ago I felt stagnant. I wasn’t signing on new clients. I was surrounding by agencies that were doing everything better. So, I became more focused on selling and less focused on what I do best: providing services of value. I thought I had been running my marketing agency the wrong way.

That all changed when I heard the keynote presentations at the Inbound 18 conference. I sat amongst like-minded professionals in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and listened with great interest as Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah introduced the flywheel model replacing the traditional marketing funnel. The idea is that growth marketing is about attracting, engaging and delighting your customers. Full stop. The Customer Code outlines their ethos — asking you to grade how well your company responds to these customer demands:

  • “Earn my attention, don’t steal it.”
  • “Treat me like a person, not a persona.”
  • “Solve for my success, not my systems.”
  • “Use my data, but don’t abuse it.”
  • “Ask for feedback, and act on it.”
  • “Own your screw-ups.”
  • “Help me, help you, by helping myself.”
  • “I don’t mind playing, but I do mind being played.”
  • “Don’t block the exit.”

I love this list! It addresses the gaslighting problems that have plagued marketing since early man drew on cave walls. The future of marketing boils down to being honest, having integrity and as my mother would say, “treating others the way you want to be treated.”

I don’t know how other agencies, locally and nationally, are going to grow their businesses or whether this is truly a trend they will adopt. But for Bragg Media, this is the road we’re taking.

About this Blogger: Heather Bragg

About this Blogger: Heather Bragg

Before Heather entered the world of marketing, she was a newspaper journalist. Today, she is best known for developing well-rounded marketing plans that focus on the long-term.

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