February 5, 2009


Legally, corporations are considered people, and one of the paths to success in branding and marketing is to persuade the customer to see your corporation as a friend (or at least a fond acquaintance), just they would treat any other person. So Apple’s like your hipster friend, Charles Schwab is now your friendly market-savvy pal Chuck, and Pepsi’s your young, newly inspired political friend who’s a little too into Barack Obama. While it’s basic psychology and of course these campaigns work on me just as much as much as anyone else, I do notice them a lot and find them either entertaining or frustrating, depending on my mood (I’m aiming for more of the former). So I was disconcerted to realize recently that Starbucks, that paragon of corporate overexpansion and homogenization, bastion of inauthentic neighborhood charm, and shameless commoditiser of impulses towards social welfare, has somehow cracked the elusive “Mike” demographic. With the introduction of all sorts of new teas as part of their Tea Time campaign, the return of the Vivanno to local stores, calls for volunteerism among their customers, and introduction of a loyalty card, I feel like a humongous multinational corporation has suddenly started catering to my personal desires and worldview. It’s very unnerving to be part of a target demographic like this, but also strangely wonderful. 

Exploring the Frontiers of Happiness
December 21, 2008

I recently watched a talk by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert ostensibly on the subject of happiness. More specifically, it was about how the brain incorrectly evaluates risk and reward, leading people to make poor decisions in their lives. His website seems pretty gimmicky, but the talk was useful, especially the part about the fallacy of “Comparing with the past instead of the possible”.

Basically, people value things in comparison to their prior experience with that thing, instead of in comparison to the thing as it exists now. This sometimes makes sense (especially from an evolutionary perspective), but also underlies most of the practice of marketing. The simplest example is valuing goods more when they’re on sale, since we compare them to their non-discounted price. But there are much more illuminating examples in the talk; I recommend it especially if you want to understand marketing better.