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By Justin Basini

At the Battle of the Big Thinking, 26th November 2009

It was in this ...
process of consumption engineering to ask fundamental questions about where the focus, limits and opportunities
of marketi...
But I think as marketers we have many reasons to be optimistic both in the journey and its destination. There will be
new ...
extend the life of the product, and through new functionalities, repair services, and training, for example, also
develop ...
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Transcript of Escaping the Matrix presentation - Justin Basini Battle of the Big Thinking


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Transcript of the presentation given by Justin Basini at the Battle of the Big Thinking, 26th November 2009. The presentation poses some questions about the role of marketing today and its impact on society and proposes some changes to leverage marketing and business for the common good.

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Transcript of Escaping the Matrix presentation - Justin Basini Battle of the Big Thinking

  1. 1. ESCAPING THE MATRIX PRESENTATION By Justin Basini At the Battle of the Big Thinking, 26th November 2009 It was in this week in November 1891 that a boy was born who was to become one of the forefathers of the modern marketing profession. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and together with Crowd Psychology and the insights of a certain Ivan Pavlov he created a process which he called “consumption engineering”. He used “propaganda” as he called it, distributed through mass communications, to help ideas spread, to gain consent and create demand. His name was Edward Bernays and he successfully used his techniques to sell every type of product and service, as well as change public opinion and even once overthrow a government. He was a master manipulator creating simple stories that changed behaviour. I’m proud to be a member of this modern marketing profession. I’ve been blessed to have worked for some of the best marketing businesses in the world and with amazing people in businesses and agencies but over the past few years I have become increasingly unsettled by this consumption engineering and the impact of marketing in our society. I would like to share with you some of what has unsettled me and how we might respond. Marketing has achieved a huge amount. Through the process of creating consumers and consumer demand, marketing has been the engine of our consumption based economic model. And this model over the past 100 years has delivered a standard of living that has never been higher. 100s of millions of people now live in a world where good housing and sanitation, healthcare, education, security and well being are rights not aspirations. Our industry has changed the way people think not only about products and services but also about themselves, their families and the world we live in. Through advertising revenues marketing has funded the rise of the popular mass media, especially broadcast and the internet, building a powerful platform for our messages. From “soap operas” to the “X-Factor” to Google the symbiosis between the media and marketing has been a potent weapon in our hands to secure our economic need for consumption. As marketers we now, often without thinking, use the tools of the psychologist, psychoanalyst, even neuroscientist, to probe and understand what consumers want and how to get ideas into their heads that will make them buy. We now live in a complex inter-related system of stimulus and response that in the developed world constantly surrounds us. This matrix of inputs and outputs can be seen in the media, in our newspapers and on our screens. It changes what we think and feel about our lives, our individuality and what constitutes success and happiness. We are bombarded to “be smarter, be better looking, be better parents, to get happy” through the act of consumption. We are programmed from an early age to respond to the stimuli of this matrix. We, perhaps better than anyone, know the power of the matrix. We employ this complex and interconnected web of technology, media and messages, to get new ideas to spread, to position brands, to change how people feel, what they talk about and ultimately to get people to consume. It’s hard for us to take a step back from the day to day ©Justin Basini, November 2009
  2. 2. process of consumption engineering to ask fundamental questions about where the focus, limits and opportunities of marketing should lie. So let’s together look at some aspects of the this matrix that drives our consumption based economic model. 1984 was an important year for the world. This was the year that humanity’s footprint first exceeded the Earth’s total biocapacity. In simple terms we started using more resources than could be replaced. We are now globally outpacing the available biocapacity by 30% - we are using resources as if we had 1.3 planets. In Britain we are consuming resources as if we had 3 planets. This over-consumption is only going to get radically worse. The global population is predicted to continue to increase over the coming forty years to 9bn. China, India, Russia, Brazil have 100s of millions of people who have needs to fulfil and will have money to spend. The current economic blue print is that they too will join us as consumers. But our world cannot support billions more consuming as we do now. Unless there is change we will continue an environmental and societal slide down into conflict driven by increasing competition for scarce resources. But tragically just as we need to debate and create new ideas, we fall victim to one of the negative consequences of matrix, that our ability to come together as an interconnected set of communities to vision, to debate and to move forward in solving complex questions has been severely diminished. Our democracy is by many measures weaker than ever before. Our media ensures that any optimism and hope in the future is sacrificed on the altar of cynicism. What works in the matrix are “Single minded benefits” expressed as headlines backed up by simple targets and clear ownership, playing with and to our desires, expectations and beliefs. But this forces complexity to be reduced down to absurd over-simplifications which as they are shouted through the 30 second commercial or 2 minute media segment come to be seen as the truth. We see the half-truths in the matrix exposed when adverts are forced to reveal that those fabulous eyelashes or beautiful hair we desire are actually false ...or in the presentation of an image of beauty that is impossible to attain. We can see the use of over-simple targets as league tables become the primary lens by which we judge a school and its teachers. We see the obsession with the short term every time a CEO has to make a quarterly results presentation. Witness the absurd simplifications of the matrix when justifications for war are tricks and mis-information, or when the Prime Minister announces the latest 140 character argument for why we are fighting a war in Afghanistan. So if we need to escape this matrix, then what role can marketing play? One of the problems with the choice between staying in the matrix or escaping is that is too easy to become pessimistic and cynical that any change will be difficult, overwhelming and deliver a worse situation not a better one. We all look to a sustainable future and extrapolate that the standard of living and the freedoms we enjoy today will be far fewer. ©Justin Basini, November 2009
  3. 3. But I think as marketers we have many reasons to be optimistic both in the journey and its destination. There will be new commercial opportunities; there will be better landscapes for engagement with people; and that our skills and our creativity can be central to making these changes a reality. So if consumption economics cannot continue in its current form them what will emerge? This, of course, is the 60 trillion dollar question. I believe that the future must be one that replaces economic growth based on consumption with economic growth based on conservation. Not conservation in a narrow sense focused just on protection of biodiversity for example, but in its widest sense, focused on building economics around the protection, prolonging and loyal delivery of goods and services. In order to make this future a more likely reality I would like to outline four changes that we as marketers and brand owners can engage around today: The first marketing challenge is one of perception. The treadmill of consumption feeds off encouraging all of us to value what we don’t have more than what we do. We are constantly told to crave what we don’t possess. This drives the focus of marketing to be acquisitive and consumptive. The result of this for our society is that we create an environment of envy and greed that is corrosive to community cohesion. One of the results of the economic turmoil of the last few years is that the prevailing zeitgeist has turned away from the accumulation of goods to much more a feeling of protection and enhancement. Our brands therefore have the opportunity to connect on this basis that help us value what we have now and that by maximising these assets we can gain deeper satisfaction. Nike’s marketing programmes have inspired 100,000s around the world to get involved with running in a friendly spirit of competition. Less about selling the latest trainer and more about personal journeys to fitness Nike uses its resources to provide the opportunity for anyone, customer or not, to gain a real sense of achievement. The second marketing challenge is one of communications: the matrix is fed by simplicity and face value acceptance of half truths propelled into our minds through mass communications. New technologies and media convergence give us the opportunity to create a new model that develops marketing through mass interactions that engage people in the debate and allows them to find solutions in partnership with brands. As the Cluetrain Manifesto proclaimed 10 years ago after all is stripped away what is left is the human conversation. Connecting with this conversation is the challenge for brands. Conversation works best when there are different points of view, honestly held and respectfully communicated. Brands and businesses can truly take part in the conversation only when they honestly expose their true values, opinions and motivations trusting people to assess them in the round. Marketing is uniquely able to engage people in difficult subjects making them more accessible and reducing the barriers to entry. Dove chose to tackle the stereotypes of female beauty head on. They gained respect, trust and sales by engaging in the debate. The third marketing challenge is to create sustainable product platforms. Consumption economics is about using more things up faster, conservation economics must be about using less things slower. This is a rich area for innovation. Product platforms such as the I-phone have the ability to replace multiple gadgets and grow with their users over time providing apps for many needs and skins that allow the device to constantly feel fresh. This has the potential to ©Justin Basini, November 2009
  4. 4. extend the life of the product, and through new functionalities, repair services, and training, for example, also develop new revenue streams away from just handset sales. Finally and I believe most significantly will be a change that will constitute brand and business leadership in the future. The economic turmoil of the past two years has exposed the over focus on short term shareholder return that is endemic in many of our businesses. 99 of the top 150 economic entities in the world are commercial corporations with many of these enterprises, from banks to car manufacturers, being shown to be “too big to fail”. This realisation is a distinct break from one of the fundamentals of our market based economic model. This change means that for the first time we realise that these businesses are also too big for us not to insist that at their core must be a balance between commercial objectives and the creation of a positive social impact on individuals, societies and our world. I think that brands, and the marketing that nurtures them, can become a catalyst for this revolution in business that delivers as an intentional outcome, not just monetary profit for the few but benefits for the many. You may be thinking that this sounds like a call for more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or more cause-related marketing. It is not. Whilst these activities were laudable they existed within a framework where purely commercial outcomes irrespective of the broader social impact, were “paid back” through CSR or charitable donations. A new framework is needed that places the social common good with the commercial on equal footing. Others may be thinking that there is already enough meddling in enterprises, and that by creating wealth and employment businesses perform a social good anyway. I do not deny these benefits but as we have lived through recently, the focus on purely commercial outcomes, encouraged by the capital markets, creates fundamental and dangerous imbalances. All these changes will be complex. What I describe here is a more difficult, messier, perhaps less commercially profitable, more human world. This world will require new ideas to spread, perceptions to change and behaviours to shift. And marketing has proven time and time again its ability over the past 100 years to deliver these changes. Our skills and understanding of humanity more than any other are what is needed now to escape the matrix. And so I challenge you – take the blue pill or the red pill? You each have an envelope please open it now, inside you will find a red and blue pill (which are actually delicious jelly beans). You’ll also see a website that I’ve put together to support these ideas. My thoughts and the slides I’ve presented today are already posted together with links to other resources such as blogs, books, polls, data. And crucially you can comment and share your ideas and opinions. When all is said and done we all have a choice facing us: Do we look backwards to Edward Bernays and remain the consumption engineers of the matrix or do we attempt an escape from the matrix by using our talent as marketers, employing our unparalleled creativity, and our deep understanding of humanity, to deliver social good for the many, as well as commercial profit for the few, and through this win a new legitimacy for marketing in the 21st century. ©Justin Basini, November 2009