One of my favorite sources of entertainment is reading the florid interpretations of consumer behavior by sidewalk psychologists.
The past 10 years have been particularly silly with breathless accounts of consumers' supposed
rejection of television, immunity to advertising, and defenselessness in the face of social media marketing.
This nonsense used to be confined mainly to journalism and media, but it has now spread to marketers themselves with precious ideas about "brand purpose" and "brand love."
The attribution of consumer behavior to mysterious emotional needs instead of practical human concerns is simply a clever way to wrap the shallowness of most marketing strategy in pseudo-intellectual baloney.
In 2008, The New York Times Magazine
had a cover story entitled, "Putting The Dream Car Out To Pasture." The thrust of the story was that America's love affair with the automobile (is there a bigger cliché anywhere?) was over...
“Beyond the bad economic news may lurk a less remarked shift in Americans’ psyches: a change in the role the automobile occupies in people’s emotional lives and self-image”
The article went on with additional psycho-babble concerning...
“...guilt over how much damage the exhaust is contributing to the destruction of the planet...self- consciousness about the image… a full-size behemoth…conveys today about its driver.”
At the time, in a blog post called The People Who Always Get It Wrong, I
"The change in consumer automotive behavior is about one thing and one thing only: the price of gas. It has nothing to do with psyches...or guilt... or self-consciousness... It’s the price of gas. Period. Exclamation point. End of story.
If the price of gas goes back down to 2 bucks a gallon, people will be right back in their big ass cars..."
Well, guess what? This summer the price of gas is approaching $2 and The NY Times
had another story about the automotive industry. This time it was, "American Drivers Regain Appetite For Gas Guzzlers."
"So far this year, nearly 75 percent of the people who have traded in a hybrid or electric car to a dealer have replaced it with an all-gas car..." says the
"Falling gas prices have made big, heavy cars fashionable again..."
I guess our emotional lives, self-images and self-consciousness must be confused as hell.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not an advocate for burning more gas. I've owned three hybrids. But I am an advocate for realism.
All these mental gymnastics about consumer behavior are largely horseshit. You don't have to dig very deep to understand why people buy most stuff. They buy stuff that makes them feel good. Period. Exclamation point. End of story.
There's an old blues song* that describes consumer behavior better than any Stanford MBA:
All the money in the world
Spent on feelin' good
*Feelin' Good by J.B. Lenoir