“Addiction Marketing” is a phrase I started using a few years back while waiting in line for my drink at Starbucks. I was observing the mass of people who seemed almost desperate for their daily (if not more frequent) fix of caffeine. It was at that moment I realized the real power of one of Starbucks key business drivers, if not their most critical business driver – Starbucks sells products that cater to peoples addictive tendencies. What Starbucks has done better than many other addictive marketers is that they also make it cool and trendy to succumb to your addiction. In today’s blog post I’ll examine addiction as a key success factor in business.
Brands have always catered to our emotions viewing them as associative triggers – the tactics I’m describing are clearly not new. That said, has this practice crossed the line when addictive tendencies are being exploited for profit? Is this just creative branding and intelligent marketing, or are we merely sheep being led to slaughter? My intent is not to make judgments or draw conclusions, but rather just to have you wrestle with the following question: Are you an addict, pusher, or both, and if so, how do you feel about it?
When I was in school economics professors would lecture on using supply and demand drivers to create a business advantage, business professors would evangelize the strengths of the recurring value and stability of consumable products, marketing professors would espouse the benefits of customer loyalty and relationship marketing, but nowhere do I recall being able to register for a business class on addiction. However if you think about “Addiction Marketing” you’ll quickly realize what the “media pushers” on Madison Avenue and the product development and marketing gurus in the corporate world have known for years – all people have their unique set of vulnerabilities, which when creatively and effectively exploited will lead to strong sales and powerful brands.
In thinking about this topic with respect to media coverage, I recall that a few years back the Indian government was attempting to force Coca Cola and Pepsi to divulge the formulas to their popular beverage products. One of the charges being levied in the Indian High Court was that Coke and Pepsi products were addictive and unhealthy, Hmmm…More recently there have been a number of energy drinks and dietary supplements that have been pulled from retail shelves because of health hazards posed by addictive consumption.
Examine the following representative list of successful businesses and/or industries and come to your own conclusions as to whether these businesses or industries prey on the addictions of consumers world-wide to generate their revenue:
Las Vegas - The tagline “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” caters to virtually every possible addiction under the sun…Sin City lives up to its reputation.
Tag Body Spray - Tag’s recent commercial campaign has taken the phrase “Sex Sells” to a whole new level. In these campaigns all an adolescent male needs to do is to spray himself with the Tag product and he finds himself instantly being attacked by hordes of attractive young women. If you have a teenage son, it would be a safe bet that Tag is his cologne of choice.
The Beer and Alcohol Industry - You will be hard pressed to find a beer or alcohol company that doesn’t portray consumption of their beverage as the key ingredient to a lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women, successful careers, etc.
The Tobacco Industry - The tobacco industry has been publicly hammered for selling products that leverage the addictive effects of Nicotine, and even with all the known health hazards smokers face, in many instances the addictive nature of the product is greater than peoples ability to make a logical decision.
I don’t think anyone will dispute the examples noted in the above list as obviously preying on consumer’s addictive tendencies. However what about the more subtle side of the addiction business? Isn’t Starbucks using the same addictive business tactics as those industries listed above? What about other fast food outlets? What about companies in the luxury products sector? Companies that sell high end products and services cater to the elitist attitudes of this segment allowing consumers to make statements about their socioeconomic status based on the products they purchase. Is this not also catering to addictive tendencies?
Okay, now I’ll hit a little closer to home and turn the spotlight on myself. What about my company’s value proposition? We sell success… Is it not possible to look at success as being an addiction? How about the social networking industry? Are social networkers and bloggers addicted to the interaction, attention, etc. that the social media platform affords? While I could go on, I think my point has been made.
I’m certainly not implying that all consumers are addicts, nor am I implying that all companies are “pushers,” but I am pointing out that addiction marketing sells and that many companies use this as a strategic advantage. In fact, I believe the evidence is clear that a business can create a strong strategic advantage in sustainability if they find no ethical flaw in what I’ve coined as “Addiction Marketing”.
The bottom line is that I love to travel and watch movies and I don’t think it makes me an escapist. I have a penchant for Starbucks, venti caramel frappacinos in particular and I don’t think I’m a caffeine addict (perhaps a sugar addict), and I appreciate fine clothes & quality automobiles and I don’t believe that makes me a social elitist. However I have also come to realize that my perceived addictive tendencies are clearly attempting to be preyed upon by creative and intelligent marketing and product development efforts. I’ll leave you with the following questions to ponder:
- What is the difference between pleasure and addiction?
- Do you feel “Addiction Marketing” is ethical?
- Does your company partake in addictive marketing strategies and tactics? And;
- When was the last time you made a purchase based upon your addiction?