When I was younger I went to university for a few years to study what was then coined as "Marketing Management". At the time it wasnt a job that was widely accepted as a top paying position and it certainly wasnt a position you could apply for. Now however it is one of the most top paying jobs you can get outside of being an executive of a company.
While I was doing the course there were a few different subjects that I found to be confronting and definately not conducive to what I beleived in at the time. The first was business ethics.....I think I summed it up after a whole 3 months of lectures I stumped a lecturer by saying "So what your saying is that ethics only applies to the contract drawn by both parties, and anything outside of that doesnt apply" and the answer in short was "yes..yes thats correct".
When you start to delve into the marketing world you start to become a manipulator, you start to look at the vulnerabilities of people to identify how to make a product seem like a need instead of a want. Lets face it, i'm in the fitness industry, so lets see how a marketing professional would try and sell a weight loss product.
Firstly they would try and identify a target market. Now a target market can be based on location, race, gender, age, activity level, income level etc etc etc. Essentially its going to be the group of people that is going to relate to the product the most. Now how do they decide this, well they can pay market research companies to figure that out, or they can do it organicly through resources like The Australian Bureau of Statistics ( www.abs.gov.au ) .
So for our example of the weight loss product I typed in "obesity" into the abs.gov.au search bar and although its not recent the first result was "profiles of health and obesity 2011-13" and here is what I found :
" In 2011-12, 62.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese, comprised of 35.3% overweight and 27.5% obese. A further 35.5% were of normal weight and 1.7% were underweight. The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased in Australia over time, from 56.3% in 1995 and 61.2% in 2007–08. Overweight and obesity varies with age, with 74.9% of people aged 65-74 years being overweight or obese, compared with 36.4% of people aged 18-24 years. In 2011-12, more men were overweight or obese than women (69.7% compared with 55.7%). However, looking at only those persons who were obese, rates are the same for men and women (both 27.5%).
The proportion of people who are obese has increased across all age groups over time, up from 18.7% in 1995 to 27.5% in 2011-12....... Between 1995 and 2011-12, the average adult man's weight increased by 3.6kg, while the average adult woman's weight increased by 4.0kg.
Looking at the level of disadvantage by sex showed that proportionally more women living in areas of most disadvantage were overweight or obese (63.8%) compared with women living in areas of least disadvantage (47.7%). Interestingly, this pattern was not observed for men, with similar overweight or obese rates for men living in areas of most disadvantage (69.0%) and those living in areas of least disadvantage (68.6%). "
So... what does all this data tell us. Well, to be honest it tells us that the people most likely to want a weight loss product are women living in low socio economic areas between the ages of 24 and 74. Now this took me 5 minutes to narrow down a target market, companies have TEAMS of people working on this for weeks to figure out who is more likely to buy a product.
So what happens from there? A marketing professional will look for vulnerabilities of that target market. They will attempt to find out what the target market thinks, what their daily routines would be and most importantly how they feel. Feeling is the most important part of that analysis as you need the customers to have an emotional connection to your product. If you think that this isn't possible just think about who you beleive to be your favourite talk show host....most (there are some that are immune to her dancing) would say Ellen. When asked why the most normal answers are "shes just fun happy and down to earth". Emotion, emotion and oh yeah another emotion. You feel comfortable watching her because it's like being in the room with a good freind. The same can be said for most products on the market.
Now say we are looking for vulnerabilites for a weight loss product. How would an average overweight person feel. Most (not all) might feel depressed, they may feel desperate, they may lack self confidence, they may be overcompensating confidence to hide their lack of self worth. These examples are ones that I just thought of without doing any research, but from personal experience allot of these emotions are ones that have come out as a result of transformations.
So we have some vulnerabilities, now the question is how do we use those vulnerabilites to make someone see the product as a need instead of a want. Well, that answer is what you see before you every single day "Tried everything and can't lose weight?", "Sick an tired of doing all that work and not getting anywhere?", "Not enough time to workout?". All these headlines are designed very very specifically to attack the vulnerabilities that I decribed before.
So we have a product, we have a target market and now we have some vulnerabilities that will "help" someone lose weight. We have advertising that is going to make overweight women between 24 and 74 to spend whats left of their low income on a product they dont just want but now "need". Then what....
Well, here is where it gets really really nasty, where the ethics are no longer a concern and the outcomes are disregarded for profit. They know the product won't provide PERMANENT results. They know that you will lose weight in the short term, so how do they make sure you dont lose faith in the product and come back for it next week. The answer is very very simple, they rely on misinformation, a lack of education and non disclosure to make sure their product delivers the desired result, but never ever allows you to find a permanent solution.
In sales and marketing if there was a "permanent product" as in a once use only product, the company would go bust. The reason for that is quite simple, if you sold the single answer to the problem you would eventually run out of people to help which would make your stocks fall like a rock. The solution in business is to keep your audience hungry, keep your buyers constantly looking for an answer that you can provide a 80% solution for. Do that and you will be profitable.
So what needs to happen? To keep the audience hungry? The company needs to think in cycles and expect the eventual failure of different iterations of a product and utilise eventual negative feedback to launch the "NEW AND IMPROVED" version. The endstate is if EVERY SINGLE company selling the WEIGHT LOSS ANSWER does the same thing, it creates this overwhealmingly confusing web of products and gimics that may work short term but wont help anyone learn how to keep their fat levels in check, how to eat appropriate for them and how to keep a BALANCED and HEALTHY lifestyle. Michele Seger's Diagram above describes the perpetuating cycle of failure that marketing companies rely on to sell to repeat customers. It depicts quite well the emotional rollercoaster that consumers are sent on in order to look for the next quick fix.
It is a vicious cycle ladies and gentleman derived by the products originally designed to help with weight loss. The cycle Im talking about is an emotional one. Where someone might feel down from being overfat, they might try a product and get some results and feel happier. As a result of feeling happier they decide they dont need that product anymore and then slide back into a state of being upset as a result of increased fat stores. Its this constant up and down of emotions that big companies rely on.
It doesnt help that we have all these people trying to sell things that are not in BALANCE. Body sculptures and body builders that have devoted their lives to the stage who advocate diets and regimes that are unrealistic for the average person. Individuals advocating short burst workout programmes that dont teach you how to take care of yourself. Diets that are unrealistic to live on and doctors who put surgeons pay packets before the health of their clients.
In short ladies and gentleman there is a way out of the cycle. It does take a bit of time, it takes some extra learning, some soul searching and some goal setting; but find YOUR answer and you won't need any other.