How Marketing Moves the Masses

Jan 14, 2020 Rian Chandler-Dovis


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When Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified at a U.S. Congressional Hearing in 2018, he acknowledged an important reality: Facebook isn’t simply a tool for having fun and connecting with friends. The pervasive communication that Facebook enables has incredible power — power that’s both good and bad. Communication has power. Zuckerberg finally acknowledged that, and so should we. Well-crafted marketing leverages that power.

Sophisticated marketing across influential portals such as social media, television, radio and print, can result in significant changes in public perceptions. Some of those campaigns, as we’ll see, have negatively impacted entire countries. But there are other campaigns that have saved thousands of lives. Marketing is more effective when it aims for these higher goals.

There is a mantra I hear within the marketing community: “It’s not like we are changing the world.” There is a lie beneath the surface of this statement that is not only egregious, it’s dangerous. While it’s true that not ALL marketing changes the world — remember Mountain Dew’s “Puppy, Monkey, Baby” commercial which set a benchmark for mindlessness — a quick look at history will uncover the truth that marketing has the power to change the world and its impact on history has been enormous.

Marketing caused a million infant deaths per year by driving behavior change

An ad for Nestle baby formula aired in the developing world in the 1970s with a devastating effect. By influencing mothers to believe that feeding babies breast milk was primitive, Nestle set into effect a wave of malnourishment, starvation, and diarrhea from water contamination that led to millions of infant deaths. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, “reliance on baby formula [caused] a million infant deaths every year through malnutrition and diarrheal diseases.” That’s one million children that never grew to influence the world as we know it today. World-changing, certainly, in the most destructive way possible.

Marketing dismantled world alliances by micro-targeting a mindset

The creation of the European Union (EU), which was slowly built on trade deals after World War II, was an effort to create lasting peace among the historic rivals of that continent. Over time, it knit the success of 28 countries to the success of their fellow members, leading to fluid sharing of information, currency, and resources.

What could motivate one of the most prominent European countries to withdraw from the EU? Evidence points to social marketing efforts for Leave.EU run by now defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Those efforts targeted specific population segments likely to back a major shift and provoked them to vote for the United Kingdom to split from the EU in a June 2016 referendum. The efforts worked and the United Kingdom announced in 2017 plans to depart the EU in a move dubbed “Brexit.”

Marketing saved 150,000 lives by ingraining a simple message

In the 1970s, alcohol was a factor in more than 60% of all traffic fatalities. An estimated 150,000 Americans' lives were saved between 1982-2001 due to a 30% decrease in alcohol-related driving deaths. This drastic downturn is greatly due to an iconic marketing campaign for Drunk Driving Prevention launched in 1983. In 1990, a public service announcement (PSA) for the campaign entitled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” was launched. That PSA is credited with a 10% decrease in alcohol-related fatalities from 1990-1991, the largest historical drop to date.

Why is marketing so often underestimated?

It took decades to connect baby formula advertising with the deaths of millions of infants, and to eliminate the prejudices it created and the bad advice the campaign gave. That’s one reason people underestimate the impact of marketing campaigns: it can take a long time to see the results. Another factor is that connecting the ad impression with the behavior modification is difficult. Often the connection is not understood until it has been repeated so frequently it is undeniable.

At Brand Federation, we understand the power of marketing, not only through advertising, branding, and public relations, but also as the result of cross-discipline efforts in persuasion. Our federation of experts generates new ideas and innovations that can help solve some of the world's biggest problems.

World-changing ads are just one piece of the power of marketing and branding.

The innovations that have come from marketing agencies and consultancies have had an incredible impact. Consider the profound behavioral change that resulted in one billion fewer pieces of plastic in global landfills per year thanks to recycling efforts. There is new learning potential such as what DDB Worldwide and McDonald’s generated when they transformed the iconic red Happy Meal box into a virtual reality headset with educational games in Sweden. This added to McDonald’s zero waste initiatives and gave children new learning opportunities via smartphones.

Innovation can lead to identifying unmet needs of underserved populations. Marketers have pushed companies into identifying their customers’ needs, then filling those needs. The result has been a never-ending variety of consumer goods and services closely tailored to individual needs. Marketers have led the way to streaming video, online multi-player games, low-cost stock trading platforms and co-working office space. The impact of these projects goes beyond measurement, manifesting in empowerment and life enhancement. Innovation isn’t just about creating new products or new slogans, but is also about solving real problems for humanity.

Is your marketing making the world a better place?

For marketing to prove it’s making the world a better place, it must do more than just sell. It needs to sell in a way that causes ad buyers to want to engage in behavior that benefits others, and ad consumers to do likewise. It is easier to build such incentives into your marketing than you might realize.

Marketing has the power to change the way people think and behave. At Brand Federation, we believe in using that power responsibly. We support work that leads to positive transformation for companies, communities and causes, and that helps to make the world a better place.