For the majority of businesses (and most ad agencies), it’s like the mutterings of blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like by reporting what they discover from various angles. The result will be something that very much does not look anything like an elephant.

For the savvy marketer, however, pop psych is a goldmine of very useful information. You simply sift it through your salesman’s “bullshit detector” and “opportunity alarm”.

I always butcher the quote, but Mark Twain once noted there were always two reasons why a man bought anything. There was the reason he would give you. And then there was the real reason.

When you look at a guy trying to soothe his mid-life crisis with a brand new Porsche 911, it’s easy to figure out his “real” reason. No matter how much he insists it’s all about value and excellent craftsmanship.

But it’s not so obvious — and even defies common sense — when, for example, golfers will buy products that increase their tee shot distance over everything else by a 10-to1 margin. Unless you were savvy to a study that showed an increase in dopamine production when volunteers were told they’d just hit a 300-yard drive (whether they actually had or not). Which was larger than the “feel good” increase after making a long putt.

Take SUVs. It’s really gotten out of hand. I have a 1994 Explorer I use more or less as a truck for hauling stuff around town. It used to look big to me — I bought it right after my Camry was totaled in a head-on collision with a Dodge Ram. (They drug my Toyota away with a tow truck, but the Ram suffered only a scratch on the bumper.)

Now, I was very aware why I got the Explorer. I wanted some steel around me, after watching the nose of that Dodge chew through the sedan’s engine block like a shark, stopping less than a foot away from my knees.

But today’s SUVs are like apartment buildings on wheels. The people who buy them also cite safety as their number one reason for the purchase. But it’s bullshit. The new SUVs are the most unstable vehicles on the road. They are literally too big for most of the drivers to handle efficiently. (Especially with a cell phone plastered to their ear and kids screaming in the back seat.)

The “real” reason has been uncovered by the social psychologists: People who buy SUVs are more afraid, more sexually timid, and have lower self-esteem than the rest of the population. They want the behemoths because…

Their Lizard Brain Needs To Be The Baddest Ass On The Road!

And all that talk about “safety” is just their modern brain making an excuse.

All right, I’m through with the examples. (And I’m selling the Explorer and getting a nice little sports car, because the gecko in my head demands it.) Just get hip to what pop psychology has for you out there.

Easiest: Hit the search engines with some relevant terms (like “advertising experiments” or “marketing research”). Check out James Surowiecki’s excellent articles in the New Yorker (he’s aregular contributor). Subscribe to Science News. Read the Harper’s Index, and follow up on the studies reported there.

I gotta warn you, though: It’s addictive. Most people think they have the human race “figured out” by the time they get out of school. That’s silly. Just for the entertainment value alone, you should include the study of human foible and behavior in your “lifetime of homework”. It’s fun, and you will never have another boring day whenever there are people to watch.

However, as a marketer… you MUST get hip to this bottomless well of incredible information. The opportunities available to anyone who finally “gets” humans are outrageously profitable.

Whew. I’m exhausted. I’m gonna go shock my dorsal striatum with a nice cold pale ale.

John Carlton,

Further reading on this subject
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

On Bullshit By Gary Frankfurt

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

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