Woolley Marketing: Is the customer a moron?

People on phones stock image marketing nina christian

“Many marketers and their agencies are missing a significant opportunity to engage an audience beyond an immediate transaction.”

There was a time when an advertiser could be confident that their advertising would appear in a reputable environment, with publishers and media proprietors taking their legal and social responsibilities seriously. Then the internet came along.

Long before the internet, H. L. Menchen, the American author and social commentator first coined the phrase, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”. Yet, looking at what passes as the bulk of advertising today, mostly in social media platforms and across the internet, appears to align to one underlying philosophy: that the customer is stupid.

The consequence of this is many marketers and their agencies are missing a significant opportunity to engage an audience beyond an immediate transaction, to longer-term mutual benefit.

If you don’t believe that advertising has fallen to the lowest common denominator, simply spend some time looking at the advertising on some of the digital channels, where an increasing number of marketers are investing their media budget. Here, brands you may never have heard of are spruiking products at up to 50% off as if reducing their normal price by half represents value? Or even worse, proving how clever they are by remarketing to me with advertising for the same product I bought from a competitor last week, having completed my online research.

This short-term, sales-focused approach is understandable as a way of demonstrating how marketing contributes directly to growth. We see increasingly more of the advertising investment moved from building desirability and consideration, to closing the sale. Even if this approach means offering discounts at the expense of profit. In that context, it is questionable as to why they call it performance marketing? Almost anyone can sell a product or service at a discount, but it takes real marketing skills to sell and maintain a healthy margin.

A significant portion of the blame lay at the feet of the new media barons – the social media barons. They don’t agree with this term because they don’t produce the content, they simply enable others to share their content and then sell advertising to the audience it attracts. The more attractive the content, the larger the audience and the more money they make in advertising, without the cost of either creating the content or ensuring that it is not misleading, deceptive, or even slanderous. No, those responsibilities lay with the content creator – all care and no responsibility.

Enter behavioural psychology into marketing. Understanding human behavioural patterns and thinking processes led to identifying a significant number of what are commonly terms ‘biases’ which can be used to influence those decision-making processes. Bandwagon effect, confirmation bias, anchoring, availability bias and many more are not just used in marketing, they are used in the mysterious algorithms that promote content to get greater engagement from the audience, thereby leading to greater advertising revenue, without having to be concerned with the ethical, moral or legal implications of publishing that content. All that matters is the audience comes and stays to create more opportunities to see your ad.

Underestimating intelligence By Dennis Flad

By Dennis Flad

In the meantime, we have seen bad actors weaponize these social media platforms to undermine trust in society and undermine social structures including representative democracy, law and order and the capitalist economy.

But back in 1955, David Ogilvy quaintly reminded us that, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife”. Ogilvy was responding to the typical advertising practices of the day, which featured loud, authoritarian voices and blatant exaggeration. (Sound familiar?). He believed advertising should treat the customer as intelligent and capable of seeing through hype.

But in 2024, your ‘wife’ is typically contributing significantly to the household income, or the sole salary earner in a single-parent family, (and still being paid 21.7% less than men according to the latest WGEA figures). But what has not changed is she is also the person who makes 85% of all purchase decisions according to the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia.

So, perhaps before we all keep dumbing down the way we communicate with our customers, it could be time to consider that while David Ogilvy never posted a tweet on X or recorded and shared a TikTok video, he did perhaps know something about human beings. And that is, we are not morons. And we don’t like clever or tricky for the sake of proving how clever you are. But we do appreciate someone who entertains, informs, surprises, delights, shocks, and moves us in a way we can relate to and enjoy.

See Also: Woolley Marketing: Does DE&I matter or not?

Darren Woolley is Global CEO of TrinityP3, Australia’s largest and most influential independent marketing / pitch consultancy and is well known to the advertising industry. Founded more than 20 years ago TrinityP3 has a significant presence in Australia where it leads the pitch process for many of the country’s leading advertising accounts as well as having offices in London, New York and Zurich.

Darren Woolley Darren Woolley

Dennis Flad is responsible for Trinity P3 EMEA and founder of t’charta, a management consultancy boutique for strategic product management, pricing and go-to-market based in Zurich, Switzerland. Dennis worked his entire life in marketing and advertising, which allows him to infuse his whimsical drawings with a realistic understanding of management practices and behaviours.

Dennis Flad Dennis Flad

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