What kind of signals are marketers sending to children?

Sophie the Giraffe, the most popular teething toy on the market, strikes a similar resemblance with Geoffrey.

Originally, Monopoly was built to teach players about the dangers of Ricardo’s economic theory of rents. Today, Monopoly teaches something completely different.

And don’t forget that every customer under two gets a free refill at Starbucks when they bring in their Rise and Shine sippy cup.

This begs the question: What kind of signals are marketers sending to children?

Amplifying this problem is the fact that the average person is inundated with up to 50,000 advertisements per day.

We have become numb to this noise but not without cost.

The good marketers understands the lifetime value of a customer. They’re fighting for position of tomorrow.

That’s why Volkswagon spent millions of dollars in a minute and half TV advertisements with only featuring one adult for a split second at the very end.

It’s not for twenty year olds. They have already made up their mind what kind of car they are going to drive, to signal to the rest of us what kind of person they are, what kind of story they tell.

Make no mistake about it, big companies are spending enormous amounts of cash to understand our psyches. They know our buying habits better than we do.

So, if cigarette companies are restricted in how they market to kids, why on earth do we let Mickey Mouse continue to get a pass?

Everything is an investment

Everything you do, every decision you make is an investment.

An investment in time, energy, attention, resources.

What we invest in is a reflection of what we care about.

We can invest our attention into the newest episode of Game of Thrones or you could start that book you always wanted to write.

Your choice.

Good investors understand:

The best time to start investing into important assets was yesterday. The next best time is today.

Go.

From a scarcity problem to an abundance problem

For thousands of years, the number one killer for human beings wasn’t plagues or natural disasters, it was scarcity. Scarcity from essential resources to sustain life has been the crux of every generation before us.

That all changed in 1804, when a man named Meriwether Lewis was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to lead a team across the Americas to figure out what type of resources were available.

The Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, would go on to reach the Pacific ocean. But what they didn’t realize at the time, was that their biggest discovery would be the soil conditions in the midwest. Lewis and Clark paved the way for droves of immigrants to settle and pioneer the area and lay the foundation of the mass production of corn.

Fast forward to today, the US is now the largest corn producer in the world. With over 96,000,000 acres of corn being produced every year.

That is absolutely incredible to think about. Over the last few generations, we have figured out how to feed the world twice over from a small corner of the world.

And over the last two hundred years, we have finally solved this problem of scarcity. The industrial economy has created more wealth than any previous generation combined.

So, what’s the problem now?

The problem and challenge we face today is abundance. What do you do with all this stuff?

Deep inside our brain, are two small almond size nuclei called the amygdala. The amygdala, where our fight, flight and freeze reactions originate, functions to chase passions, desires and appetites.

Left uncheck to our carnal selves, it can betray us in a culture where scarcity is no longer an issue.

Because stocking up for a long winter is no longer a necessity with a McDonald’s around every corner. In that case, we have to be smarter in how we approach and design our lives. Our very nature, the chemicals in our brain, still operate as if resources are depleting. Hence, why we are facing the challenges we face: heart disease, obesity, addiction, depression…

Corporatism has turned our needs (not wants) into commodities, and now, those needs are being leveraged by the selfish marketer or CEO for personal gain.

Pornography taps into our needs for procreation and is exploited to the thousandth degree to keep us on the hook.

Social media does the same thing. Facebook leverages and misuses our need for connection, our desire to be seen and heard.

And so does fast-food, sugar, drugs, alcohol. How does big tobacco continue to market poison to the masses year after year?

Why do we allow products to continue to be marketed to us like this? How come it is easier to get a cheese burger than an apple?

The answer is, we still believe that this abundance won’t last forever. Deep down, our brains don’t understand the door that the industrial economy has opened.

Difficult problem to solve. Different challenge than we ever faced in history.

Speed up

The other day, I watched a two year take a pillow and pretend to be driving a sled. The funny thing was the adults around the room were encouraging her to slow down.

Really?

The risk of getting hurt in her imaginary world is zero. So, why do we encourage people to slow down?

It’s a habit. A bad one.

And I don’t think most of us even realize it. The status-quo keeps changing so fast. Faster than ever before.

Our initial instinct then is to slow down. We can’t possibly be competent at the new thing today, when we can barely get are hands around the old thing yesterday.

And so, you have those who caution us to slow down. To not fly so high (or you will get burned). To lay low. Blend in. Do what we did yesterday and get better at it.

That might be appropriate for assimilating the masses or for the factory worker who knows what tomorrow and the next bring, but that won’t work for the artist, the dreamer, the curator, the one who believes in a brighter future.

If we are going to prepare our youth for tomorrow’s challenge, encourage them to go faster wherever you can.

Justice and mercy

We live in a culture that favors the demands of justice.

The problem is, justice is a finger pointer.

An eye for an eye.

As we continue to evolve, unfortunately, our view of justice has fallen behind.

Even Steven isn’t enough.

We have to see people as a whole. Why they act the way they do. How they became to be.

The next step for us as human beings is mercy.

(Make no mistake, I’m not saying we get rid of the power to punish. What I am saying is that we should lead with mercy and then follow with justice. Not the other way around.)

The reason is justice doesn’t heal the heart. Only forgiveness can.

When we learn to see the world as it is, when we break this perpetual cycle of this for that, we can start living again.

The “famous” college quarter-inch drill conundrum

Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt has famously said that, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

But that doesn’t go far enough.

They want the shelf they hang on the wall.

Actually, they want the sense of accomplishment of finishing a project. They want the status it brings. They want it to match the story they tell in how they decorate the wall. They want the wall to say something about themselves.

Understanding that, lets step sideways and examine the problem of parents over scheduling their kids.

It has become clear that kid’s schedules today are much more filled than ever before. If you are going to go to one of those famous colleges, you need straight A’s (and not just the regular classes but the honor classes), play an instrument, be captain of the football team, volunteer at the animal shelter, be the next class President and it helps to be part of the prom court—all in an effort to get into a famous college.

But what makes a college famous? Is college algebra so much different at Stanford than it is at CalTech?

Of course not. What makes a college famous is the football team.

There is no data that suggests that by going to a famous college you are going to be more successful.

So why are parents spending a fortune in time, money, energy and hopes that their kids will go to one of the elite schools? Because of the way it makes parents feel to send their kids to a famous college.

We have to understand, that we are not doing these things for them. We are doing this for me.

Parents want the status, the story, the badge, the believe that comes with sending their kid to the best. It signals that you as a parent have done something right. 

The bottom line: Be careful what kind of selections you make to solve your problems. The tools you use is all part of the story you tell. 

Gamification

Deep in our brains, we are wired to play games. To make something into a competition.

That’s why Strava is so popular in the mountain community—who has the fastest known time up the mountain?

It is important to understand that in our culture if you are not gaming your life, then someone is gaming it for you.

Social media intensifies this experience. We make it a game with how many likes, shares, views, badges. We trade in our time, energy, attention, money all for a shot of dopamine, a shot at higher status.

Of course, there is no way to win the social media game. It’s a trap.

So the question then becomes, what type of game are you playing?

Is it the type of game that brings joy or meaning to your life?

Is it the type of game that lifts others up?

Does it create possibility or tension?

If it isn’t helping you learn, grow, connect, solve a complex problem than why are you playing it?