The Hidden Persuaders
Moviegoers of a certain age may remember the iconic theater "snipe" of the 1950s and 1960s with dancing concessions singing "Let's All Go to the Lobby . . . " urging movie theater patrons to indulge in oversized servings of popcorn, soft drinks and snacks. This short animated clip shown before and between feature films was embraced by theater owners who, then as now, realized their actual profits not from the films they showed, but from concession sales. However, the clip appealed to the unique theater experience rather than simple gluttony. It was a playful appeal to entice customers away from their living room couches and the hypnotic glow of television by making a movie outing seem special.
The "snipe" touched on what Vance Packard called "motivational research" in his seminal book, The Hidden Persuaders. According to Packard, motivational research focused on the unspoken, often unconscious needs of consumers in a bid to sell products, Mark Greif writes in The New York Times. A famous example of motivational research was the discovery by cake mix manufacturers that homemakers of the 1950s wanted to feel as though they were "baking," and responded by requiring users to add eggs and milk, whereas before the mixes only required water.
Many of the techniques Packard described, such as relentless repetition and short, punchy "sound bites" are still in wide use today -- in every venue from campaign advertising to movie "product placement" to promoting the latest "must-have" toy to pushing breakfast cereal from the shelves of your local supermarket onto your kitchen table.
However, as advertising has become ubiquitous and technology has advanced, the "market," that is, the consumer, has become satiated, overstimulated and somewhat skeptical, if not cynical. Only the very largest companies with the deepest advertising budget pockets can afford to plaster their messages across newspapers, magazines, television, direct mail and the Internet.
Some large advertisers attempt to position their merchandise as prestige brands with luxe packaging or limited distribution to upscale retail outlets, although their merchandise is essentially the same as similar items in the market. This strategy, a somewhat insincere attempt to achieve product differentiation, is extremely expensive, and often falls flat when customers fail to notice a significant benefit, the Encyclopedia of Small Business notes.