The other night, I found myself asking "how did we get here?" I wasn't referring to humanity - though the more reality TV I watch the more I wonder how we ever devolved to consider this entertainment - but I specifically wondered how we arrived at this point in marketing?
We're at a confluence of art, heart and science in our industry, and it's changed the meaning of a career in marketing, increased the impact we have in our organizations, and led to a swell of innovation in the past decade as data + technology explodes with possibility.
We've certainly seen a shift from mass-marketing to personalized journeys and experiences - a move celebrated by many, especially the beleaguered consumer.
But to understand where we're going, I wanted to look at where we've been - and found myself curious as to where it all started.
I stumbled across the documentary Century of the Self. Released in 2002 by Adam Curtis and the BBC, it's free to view online and I'd recommend watching if you're interested in psychology, marketing, propaganda, consumerism, or all of the above.
Did you know Edward Bernays - the inventor of public relations - was Freud's nephew?
Bernays took Freud's ideas about human beings (you know, those repressed inner sexual desires of all humans) and used it to manipulate the masses.
He showed American corporations how to make people want things they didn't need by linking mass produced goods to unconscious desires.
Does this sound familiar?
Beginning in the early 20's, New York banks funded department stores across America - the vehicle for mass-produced goods - and Bernays' job was to produce a new type of customer.
He began to create many of the techniques of mass consumer persuasion that we now live with every day, fueling retail, fashion, and media industries.
Bernays was employed by publisher William Randolph Hearst to promote his new women's magazines. He glamorized them by placing articles and advertisements that linked products made by his other clients to famous film stars like Clara Bow - who was also his client. (Go figure.)
He began the practice of product placement in movies, and dressed the stars at the film's premiere with clothes and jewelry from other firms he represented.
He was the first person to tell a car company they could sell cars as symbols of male sexuality.
He employed psychologists to issue reports to say that products were good for you and then pretended they were independent studies.
He organized fashion shows in department stores and paid celebrities to repeat the new and essential message: you buy things not for need, but to express your inner sense of self to others.
We all have grown up with these techniques as the de facto way the world works today, and how we experience brands. To know it all came from the mind of one man influenced by his psychoanalyst uncle.... #mindblown.
Not a People Person
Perhaps the most revealing fact about Bernays was his lack of people skills. The documentary goes on to say he was inarticulate, rather funny looking, and not great with people one on one.
He was uniquely knowledgable about how people in large numbers react to knowledge and ideas. He was famous for understanding the mind of a crowd.
In fact, one of his biggest fans was Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.
He strikes me as the anti-marketer of today, as our industry has evolved to embrace techniques that are not solely mass-targeted, but rather driven by our understanding of the personal, unique needs of our buyers.
From mind-control to empathy. Tricks and illusion to authenticity.
How did we get here? In part, we can thank Mr. Bernays.
And now that we know the history... how fast can we continue to revolutionize the marketing function to be the advocates for the customer, rather than the puppet masters of the masses?