Before Louis, I used to work in marketing for an advertising agency. We would come up with amazing advertising campaigns that would answer to the needs of our clients, with some humor thrown in for creativity. Inevitably, the campaigns would go in front of focus groups. First everyone in the group would chuckle at the ad. They would understand the message but sure enough, they would find some thing objectionable about our work. The client would panic and strip the ad of the very thing that made them enjoy it to begin with. I could never understand why it would be brought down to the lowest common denominator.
Recently, I met a very smart gentleman at a dinner one night that was the head of a company that mines data off websites. With that information, he finds patterns that are supposed to help companies sell more products and better serve its customers. What stuck with me the most from our conversation how differently generations are influenced to shop. My generation (Boomers) look to “known brands” as a reassurance for what we purchase. Generation X-ers look to their friends as a reference. The Millennials looks to complete strangers as their guide to purchases, whether through “curated” inspiration boards, blogs or publicly touted “likes” of products and brands. If this proves true then it explains the herd mentality that is prevalent in much of the content we view today. These socially driven endorsements are now dictating what we are feeling – from Dancing with the Stars to the political polls that are reported hourly – even if we are personally not feeling it. This really scares me.
The obsession with polls in this election cycle falls along these lines. It feeds right into this instant gratification of information thanks to the real-time nature of reporting. One blunder from the candidates, or their associates, and the polls skew one way until another blunder comes along. Then with that information the voters get saturated with advertising from the candidates until “the polls” say they are not effective any more. The candidates’ talking points are all based on polling.
The politicians are not talking about reality (maybe that hasn’t changed) but the candidates opinions change with every poll that comes out. Who votes like that? When you attempt to please more people at a greater volume, you end up lacking authenticity. For something so gullibly accepted by the masses like the polls, you’re losing the validity of these statements being real. With everything said to please the polls, it’s doubtful the soon-to-be elected officials will continue to shift at the masses every whim. Here, we think we’re getting what we want, but in turn, are giving up so much.
It really isn’t much different than the current state of retail. Generally, consumers are driven to shop by price. It’s funny, you don’t even have to mention what the product is, they just want to pay less for it. If surveys went further to ask consumers what would they would give up to get the lowest possible price, the answer is what the retail experience is today – and we still haven’t talked about the product! Consumer indifference has lead to the lowest common denominator, having us believe that getting the best price is the greatest goal. Now shoppers are expected to research the products, find them in big box stores, take it to long-lined registers, even check out and bag, then drag the bags to their cars – all by themselves.
Think about when you’re at a store with self check-out. You’re under the guise of getting “it” for less, but there’s a lot of work before you even swipe your credit card: you’ve become an expert on the product, whether it’s your cold medicine, cleaning products, electronics, whatever and then you have to scan and bag it yourself. We, as consumers, have become driven to this. We’re giving up the value of the experience and the civility of shopping for something perceived as a bargain or deal. Meanwhile, the large retailers from drug stores all the way up to the big box stores are making a 25-30% gross margin and lowering labor costs because you’re doing all the work (who’s the real winner here?).
We’ve been blinded into believing that choosing lower prices are what we want while having sacrificed service and direct information from the retailers. The fact is that this sort of mass consumer demand is showing up in all facets of life, much like how we’re blinded by politicians telling us what we want to hear rather than what they are really going to do in office. I know that saving money is SO important right now, but at some point living a less stressful life might be equal to the quest. And hopefully that will be the lowest common denominator.