In our society of more, brands are as addicting as crack.
June 14, 2010
In between normal books, I am reading Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Clegg was a promising young talent in the New York publishing world. He was also a crack addict, who hit, in the parlance of recovery, a very “low bottom.” He’d reached the “jumping off point,” where one can no longer imagine life with drugs or without them.
It’s not that Clegg’s book is badly written or uninformed it’s just that I’ve heard/read/seen it all before. I know the subject matter. Regardless of the drug of choice (crack, heroin, booze, pot, pills, coke, etc.), addicts are all hopelessly and painfully alike. They cannot stop doing something that will send them to a hospital, prison or the cemetery, not necessarily in that order. There’s more to it than that but, frankly, not much.
These stories are as predictable as they are blunt. First the addict recounts (in harrowing detail) his or her mind-numbing, soul-crushing descent into hell. Then there’s rehab, where we usually get a pain-filled description of withdrawal and afterward the melodramatic tale of the addict coming back to life. Unfortunately, this is usually followed by relapse. God knows why, the addict throws away his new lease on life and goes back to a place even worse than before. Finally, he and we get our reprieve, at least for the time being…enough time to write the memoir. The addict is saved and tries to stay saved, “one day at a time.”
I’ve read dozens of these memoirs and will probably read two or three a year for the rest of my life. Why? Let’s just say I need the reminders. Yet, personal reasons aside, I have a professional curiosity about addiction.
After all, is not addiction the secret fantasy of every client: that their products, brands or services become an integral part of as many people’s lives as possible? And by integral I mean critical and indispensable. The end user simply cannot or will not imagine his or her life without it…whatever it is.
A senior-most planner once told me that in order to change consumer behavior advertisers must establish, what he coined, “the routinization of belief.” I don’t know. Sounds damn close to the definition of addiction to me. I mean if you truly believe you can’t live without something you’re likely addicted to it. While this seems obvious when it comes to beer, wine and spirits the argument holds up elsewhere, too. People are addicted to coffee, cell phones, fast food, computers, chocolate, fashion, TV shows, social networks, sex, other people, diets, working out and countless other things savory and not. And all of it comes nicely packaged as brands (Starbucks), products (Ipad) and services (Equinox), which, in turn, become drugs of choice.
In this metaphor advertising is obviously the dealer. The product is always new and improved, better than before, life changing. If an ad can’t talk you into using, he’ll let you have a taste: buy one get one free, 50% off, one day only. Whatever it takes to get you hooked. “We make you want what you don’t need,” reads the headline on this blog, until, perhaps, you do need it.