Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The greatest marketing trick of all time

One of the greatest marketing tricks of all time is making people believe that you don't want their money, preferably at the same time that they hand it over to you by the truckload.

Pearl Jam = marketing geniuses

There are numerous examples of marketers who do it very well, like - let's say for the sake of argument - Pearl Jam.

When I raise this example in advertising class every year, there are some students who get riled up at the very idea that I would consider Pearl Jam to be among the seedy ranks of "marketers."

"I don't listen to the kind of bands who would do commercials," I recall a student once saying.

"Oh, don't the bands you like want to make any money?" I asked, triumphantly (in my own mind).

But if the definition of marketer is "anybody who has something to sell," Pearl Jam is certainly that; the band makes millions of dollars a year selling all kinds of merch to its fans: CDs, DVDs, downloads, T-shirts, concert tickets, hats, stickers, buttons, fan-club memberships, and even "activism."

It's the activism that the fans remember, and that's what makes Pearl Jam marketing geniuses: people who buy tickets to their concerts know that the band once took on Ticketmaster - it seems like Pearl Jam doesn't want my money, which - ironically - is what makes me not mind paying $79.50 on Ticketmaster to see them in Toronto: "the band is authentic and only cares about the music!"

Yes, Pearl Jam has truly figured out how to have its cake and eat it by remaining "authentic" in the minds of its audience, while doing the same thing that Britney Spears does all the time: hawking its wares for cash.

Hey, every band has to make a living. Or, preferably, get rich.

Tom Sawyer makes Pearl Jam look like child's play

Which brings me to an even greater marketing trick - the best one of all time - pioneered by Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain's classic book: getting people to give you money for something that you should really be paying them to do.

In this classic scene (from the 1973 musical version, starring none other than Jodie Foster as Becky), Tom gets his buddies to paint his Aunt Polly's fence - by making it sound so appealing that they pay him:

Every year, I run a variation of the same scam. I tell my PR students that "admission" to the next class is to have the first half of their PR proposal written. No proposal, no admission. The students who don't do it don't have to come to class and suffer no penalty. In other words: you don't have to do the work, and you get a class off in which you don't have to do it.

Logic would tell you that no one would show up to the class - however, over half of the class usually shows up.

Now that's what this instructor calls "gratifaction."

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