I make a living telling clients that consumers are just too smart to fall for branding claims that aren't substantiated by real corporate behaviors, and then AP/Ipsos goes and conducts a poll that finds 1/3 of Americans believe in ghosts.
Worse, almost one in four report having actually seen one.
This is particularly disheartening to me, what with my being the advocate for consumer intelligence, integrity, and respect.
People aren't terribly trusting of companies (or brand marketing) these days. The availability of information and shared experiences on the Internet means that they tend to believe less and less in the claims companies make about products or services. So it just makes sense to reconfigure branding strategies to address this reality.
But then those pesky consumers go and get all unreal on me.
How is it that people won’t believe, say, an automaker's claims about the performance characteristics of a car -- all testable and provable, presuming anyone was interested in doing so -- yet a goodly number will believe that spirits walk among us or, as one respondent reported in the poll results, lived in his closet (and not under his bed, in an interesting touch that just smacks of veracity).
I bet not 1 in 10 viewers who stay up late enough to witness a direct response TV offer for a combination salad chopper and paint-by-numbers device believe it will actually work, yet three in 10 have awakened believing they sensed a "strange presence" in the room.
It's unlikely that you could randomly select a group of people and find any agreement on their expectations for an insurance company making their lives easier, oil companies caring for the environment, or cosmetics actually reducing the incidences of age. Yet almost 1 in 5 believe in the power of spells or witchcraft.
And in an age when so much marketing and branding doesn't seem to work or have any of the desired effects on its targets, almost 50% of people believe in the power of ESP.
Were it only true, eh?
I think it's interesting that we work so hard to figure out what makes our target consumers tick. Branding is all about awareness, mental states, and the potentiality of action based on what gets incorporated into the world views of people to whom we market. The AP/Ipsos poll is a haunting reminder that the black box of human consciousness is anything but linear or, ahem, sensible.
This is why the behavioral marketing online is so refreshing, as it involves none of this peering into peoples’ souls, but rather the absolutely objective and measurable actions they take when they point and click. Does someone think that clicking on the buy now link also rewards an angel with her wings? Who cares, as long as they do it?
Perhaps there's more we can learn about applying this behavioral approach to the rest of our communications.
If almost a fifth of consumers believe in UFOs, maybe it's just too much work (and hope) to think that they're going to think anything dependably useful to you about your product or service. So while you hope they're thinking about your toothpaste brand or travel website, folks are also thinking about goblins, apparitions, and visits by little green men.
Perhaps the branding strategy should be to get people to do things -- not just think or be aware or them -- as you might not really want to know what they think about.
Just a few spooky thoughts for you on this Halloween.