What is marketing? If you’ve attended my workshops or surfed the web, you may have come across the increasingly popular 4A definition of marketing I coined a few years ago:

“Marketing is a four step process that begins with analyzing and defining a qualified universe of potential users or buyers. After this first phase in the marketing process, a true marketing effort succeeds in capturing the attention of the intended buyers within the targeted universe. Third, systematic effort must be put into getting the prospects to accept the concepts or propositions being offered via the marketing effort. Finally, with all three of the previous steps achieved, the marketer must convert the prospective buyer into an actual buyer by getting them to take the desired action (purchase, rent, call, download, subscribe, refer, sell, follow the law, become a member, etc.).”

But if we step back even further, I can offer you another marketing definition I’ve created, perhaps simpler and more universal in its relevancy:

“Marketing is the ongoing process of moving people closer to making a decision to purchase, use, follow, refer, upload, download, obey, reject, conform, become complacent to someone else’s products, services or values. Simply, if it doesn’t facilitate a “sale” then it’s not marketing.”

With the above definition in mind you can appreciate the universal power of marketing. Marketing never ceases. Every decision we make spawns from the left or right brain making the more compelling marketing proposition. What feels good versus what is practical. What you want versus what you need. The desire to live in the moment versus the desire to plan ahead. The desire to make passionate love to the stranger standing next to you versus the desire to be faithful to your partner.

Marketing can be a catalyst for change. And an equally powerful way to preserve the status quo. Often, he who markets best (uses the 4As of Marketing most effectively), gets the change he advocates.

At least until a better marketing machine arises.

Every effort warrants the creation of of a marketing machine. At any moment, hundreds of them are swirling around you invisibly, vying for your dollars, your allegiance, your time, your soul. Each one employs various means of persuasion to move you closer to making a decision to purchase, use, follow, refer, upload, download, obey, reject, conform, and become complacent to another person’s, society’s or organization’s values.

Ultimately, in every matter, the winning marketing machine makes your choices for you. Since you came into this world you’ve been bathed, swaddled, diapered, showered, spritzed, paddled with and intravenously hooked up to hundreds of marketing machines. A marketing machine taught you how to think, and how to buy and sell, how to act like a man or woman, how to make love, how to treat people, how and who to love and to hate, how to fit in, and how to play the role of rebellious loner.

The machines tell how you should think and what you should say; And you comply. You play your role. You buy and sell your goods. You download your music. You evangelize your faith. You marry him or her. You choose that career. Marketing machines build the templates for the decisions you make. No matter what you choose, even if you choose to do nothing, that choice was pre-scripted by the best marketing machine.

No place to run.

Start with 2500+ marketing messages thrown at you daily. Add to that equation an avalanche of rehearsed opinions ebbing through the orifices of the mass media into your brain. As an informed member of society you do what the best built machines want you to do, and think what they want you to think. No thought, however unique, is truly spontaneous.

What is sexy? What is right or wrong? What is fashionable or passe? What is fringe and what is mainstream? What is a good idea and what is a bad idea? What is considered porn and what is considered high art? Who is the better candidate? Which sports teams, country or war does God side with? Is a leader of a movement a terrorist or a messiah? Is someone a cold-blooded killer or a patriotic hero?

How you answer these questions -and others- depends on which marketing machines succeed in thrusting their needles into your veins. And once attached, the machines pump their proprietary drugs (a blend of words, images and sounds that attempt to quench your thirst for hope, escape, love and lust and power) into you.

Addicted to H.E.L.P.

Humans are conditioned to seek out the intoxicating outcomes that the marketing machines promise: Hope, Escape, Love/Lust and Power (H.E.L.P.). We are addicted to H.E.L.P., and go to great lengths to get it. Let’s look at the components more closely.

H: Hope. Behind every prayer, every vote and every celebration to usher in a new year is the quest for hope. People hope for a better future, hope that life will cut them a break, and hope that they will leave a legacy. Most hope that there is life after death, that the just will have their reward and that innocent will be avenged. Most hope that their loved ones will be faithful and hope they won’t be caught cheating. People hope that they can pay the bills, hope that their children will turn out normal, hope that their business will survive.

Hope is a multi-billion dollar industry. Those who create their marketing machines know that most consumers will spend their last cent if it buys them hope. The sweeter the hope the more valuable it becomes.

E: Escape. People want to escape the small and utterly ordinary lives they lead. They want to escape the feeling that life has passed them by. They want to escape getting older, escape their jobs, escape their dysfunctional parents, and escape the feelings of regret that remain after years of playing it safe. In a perpetual state of denial, people search for the drug, the cocktail, the shoes, the car, the church or the lover that will whisk them from their real and imagined prisons.

The cruelest joke is that the marketing machines often manufacture the symptoms that mandate escape (i.e.: depression, fast-food, marriage) and then create the cures to treat the symptoms (drugs, diets, divorce lawyers).

L: Love/Lust. Love makes us crazy. Yet we are addicted to the pursuit of love, even when it takes us into unfamiliar places. Most want to hear the words “I love you” be it from a soulmate, a drunken stranger in a smoked-filled bar, from the mouth of paid escort or even a celebrity hawking shampoo on TV.

And if only our pets could talk! Surely they would love us. Wouldn’t they? We want to wanted. For every hour spent on the treadmill, every Botox injection, or every new piece of clothing added to our already stuffed closet we want to be lust for. It is the same for those who pursue the advanced college degree or endure the painful induction ceremonies. We want to know that we make others feel alive in their presence. We want to earn the love of the abusive parent. To feel the love of an omnipotent god. We want it all and will pay any price or endure any absurdity to get it.

P: Power. We want power over others, power to be exempt from the rules, and the power to beat the odds. Through elaborate rituals, incantations and mythology we impart power to all kinds of things and to all kinds of people. The shaman, the politician, the rabbit’s foot, and the blue pill are only as powerful as the people who choose to believe in them. We seek power because it lets us feel secure.

We revel in the truth that power is transferable. Can bigger cars, bigger purchases, bigger weapons and bigger lawyers lead to power, or to respect or actual supremacy? No. But, that truth won’t keep the marketing machines from trying to convince you otherwise.

These are the ingredients that ensure each marketing machines’ continuity. In fact, the marketing machines survive in part thanks to the persistent belief that a product or service or religious or political ideology can actually provide access to H.E.L.P. permanently or temporarily. You’ll find these elements at the core of every successful marketing campaign.

And as long as you get your daily fix of H.E.L.P., you’ll do whatever the machines tell you to.

Before you know it (and often you don’t), you’re hooked. Addiction completed, the marketing machine can do whatever its creator commands. The best machines patiently lay the groundwork and discreetly cultivate their biases and agendas into your brain years before you’re even aware of what your answers, opinions and feeling ought to be!

As long as the high can be sustained, the marketing machines map out your answers, opinions or feelings towards their specific products, services, causes or ideologies. The space between bliss and addiction is indistinguishable. You want more of what makes you feel good.

So it’s only natural that every day you gladly jump into your defined roles and go along with it. It’s easy to rationalize why you act like an obedient sheep, isn’t it? You know the standard lines by heart;

  • Because that’s the way you’ve always done it.
  • Because the Bible tells me so (or the Torah, Koran, The Book of Mormons, or Ron Hubbard or Cosmo, Rush Limbaugh or Oprah).
  • This is just who I am.
  • Ours is not to reason why.
  • We tried that once and it didn’t work.
  • What will the neighbors (or our friends, colleagues, or the boss) think about us?
  • We have to wait for the right time.
  • Our time has passed.
  • Who am I to question the system?
  • We just have to deal with the cards we’re dealt.
  • We don’t get paid to think!
  • But, it was on sale.
  • Everyone is (wearing, watching, reading, buying, eating, drinking) it.
  • If (the president, the Jones, the newscaster, the pastor) says so it has to be…

These are words and excuses of the addicted, and proof that the marketing machines are functioning as they should.

Confusion and apathy.

When more than one machine latches onto you, indecision and confusion arise. We literally freeze until one machine succeeds in overriding the other (often its the one with the most emotional narrative) or comes up with a more addictive drug. Watching the same images repeatedly and listening to the same arguments desensitizes us. The competing points of view work so hard to get leverage the 4As, that they overwhelm our senses. We go numb. The dosage has to be increased. Now coma, and apathy.

This apathy and inaction is good for some and bad for others. Change in any direction is easy when no one cares and no one looks up. When no one questions anyone about anything, it becomes relatively easy to take control.

It’s good for politicians who only need a few hundred of the faithful to turn out and vote for their re-election or pass legislation that favors lobbyists. Good for investors who put profits over people and economics over environment. It’s bad for people who are enlightened enough to step back and see the machines for what they are and what they do to others. Bad for people who claim to value democracy. Bad for companies that need consumption to generate profits.

That last sentence is worth reading again because it offers an option for those who wish to destroy the marketing machines.

If you want to cause a marketing machine to implode, stop the cash flow. Get by without it. Under consume. Resist the urge to buy something else or trade-up. Return your purchase for a refund within 30 days. Find a new distributor. Share your single purchase with thousands of other people for free so they don’t have to buy it. Cut your credit cards and frequent buyer cards in half. Make your own open-source version. Create your own currency. Don’t lease it. Don’t rent it. Don’t recommend it. Don’t renew your contract or subscription. Don’t contribute to the cause. Don’t obey.

This kind of implosion takes the combined, sustained efforts of dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of like-minded people. You’ll have to create your own marketing machine. Kind of ironic.

If implosion isn’t possible you can at least disconnect from the marketing machine in three steps (not easy, but possible).

1) Let go of the excuses and rational lies listed above.

2) Actively question the scripts fed to you by the marketing machines; all of them.

3) Stop seeking H.E.L.P. Cold turkey. Break your addiction. Hope is not a strategy anyway. Escape is an illusion used to sell product, since there is nothing to escape from. Love yourself and how you look without a single iota of clothing, makeup, gel, supplement, cleanser, jewelry, or accessory. That’s love. Power comes to those who are most willing to relinquish it. The more you horde the less you have.

I see marketing as the quintessential tree of knowledge.

To eat or not to eat. To share or not to share. To stay with your current supplier or choose another one with a better/more compelling offer. Marketing is not inherently good nor evil. It’s all about who programs the machine.

In the hands of the small-minded fool, marketing has been used to hurt, lie, promote bigotry, and usurp the rights of other to live free and pursue happiness. In the hands of the well-intentioned, marketing is the bedrock upon which civilizations are built. A strong marketing machine is at the heart of every reform and revolution. The progress brought about through marketing is rarely painless, but always necessary.