Marketing Psychology?

In 2007 I started my Marketing Psychology course. I created it – the Bologna initiative suggested that we should have courses that were Useful. Applicable to the working world. And, I knew this one would be. You see, I’m basing it on Robert Cialdini’s influence, which is a wonderful book, and you should get it and read it. The beauty of his work is that he took what good sales-persons and marketers know already, and made it explicit in social psychological terms.

It is a classic, both in academia, and in business.

I come from marketing. In my Past Life (where I was not Cleopatra, unlike so many others), I ended up working in an In House agency, for the company that (in part) ran United Airlines frequent flyer program. I was in Production – that is, the buyer of materials and supervisor that everything gets mailed correctly and on time.

The people working there were, well, superstitious (believed in subliminal advertising for example, being worried about apparent x’s on pepsi bottles, implying sex, and just being non-concerned with more supraliminal advertising like that bikiniclad woman splayed on a billboard next to the freeway hawking piss-beer). Also, not necessarily that great at the simplest pieces of statistics. Nice people otherwise.

But, I knew, from the inside, that marketers weren’t attempting to manipulate, they were attempting to pander, because they know, like anybody working in that business, that most things never ever pan out. Nothing works. Most products disappear. It is for naught. Like the lads and ladies of the night, we put on the colors, and display our wares, hoping for takers.

No wonder they are superstitious.

In my attitudes course, in grad school, we were invaded by the business students who wanted to know what us psychologists knew about influence and persuasion and attitude change.

At some other point, my marketer husband and me both realized that we used Cialdini. For him it was for the direct marketing community. For me, it was the social psychology.

If anything would be truly applied it would be this.

I didn’t need to market the course. We announced it, and they came. In droves. From all over the university. Half of them from Economics. The next largest segment from psychology, but then also from media, rhetoric, political science, philosophy, etc.

It is a great course. The students are wonderful and dedicated and inventive. It is part theoretical, and part applied, and from the beginning, they have been out finding clients for whom they can create marketing campaigns, based on Cialdini’s principles.

And the principles work! I had this one guy who came back to me all excited after a tour with his band. Instead of being stingy with the swag, they started giving out free buttons and things, and then outsold all the other bands in Swag terms (principle of reciprocity). Everybody can tell the tale of where social proof worked – like everybody lining in the most populous line, believing the empty line is empty for a reason other than, well, nobody else has gone there yet. And, scarcity, I think we can all relate to wanting that thing we can’t have more than everything else.

But, like I said, I have done nothing, zip, zilch, nada to market it. Other than whatever is the standard announcement of courses. It has great word of mouth.

I’m astounded. And gratified. It seems like I found a need, and filled it, and selected some great literature, and were given a nice team of co-teachers (both grad students at the time).

In our department we have both theme courses (which my marketing course is), and basic courses. The theme courses are more applied. There were some concerns when we created these that we were more pandering to some business need than adhering to the need of our subject, and that we actually needed to focus on the core of our business, which is basic research. And, I agree. I think the applied stuff is a great selling point (lure them whith the use, retain them with the fascination), and my course has actually induced some students to minor in psychology.

But, I keep thinking that psychology has an image problem, especially the kind of psychology that I am involved in (basic research, not the therapy kind), and have wondered how to market us better. I’ve been thinking of using the principles for my course, but have realized that, even if it is about marketing, it marketed itself. What does it say? Why do people continuously conflate psychology with the kind where you lay on a couch and talk about your mother? Why don’t people know about my kind of psychology, and could I use the principles from Cialdini to change things? So that courses in the core topics don’t get cut.

I’ve mentioned that I don’t really get to call myself a psychologist in Sweden, although my PhD is in Cog Sci and Social Psychology, and I teach at the institute for Psychology, on the non-clinical side.

I’ve written about the Thomas Quick affair, which feels like an open wound, and something that psychology needs to deal with (and perhaps defend against). But, the other night I also watched this half-assed Swedish Murder Mystery, mainly because the setting was in Ludvika and Grängesberg (I grew up in Ludvika, so I got to see the Train station, and some of the mining areas around). The main character is a forensic psychologist! Who is a profiler, of course. And, states that the serial killer (who, btw, was found killed) murdered young boys, because his father had made him feel useless and unloved at exactly that time, because, well, we all know that people behave badly because their parents did shit to them at some time (or do we? I’m not sure at all, but the tv programs say that). Otherwise, he doesn’t seem terribly psychological in his bad decisions and bad behavior and penchant for fucking around and behaving badly, but I’m not a clinical psychologist, so what the fuck do I know.
I got tired of it. I mean, Cracker was fun ‘n all in his pre-Hagrid days, but even then he didn’t seem to really have anything to do with real psychology as opposed to psychology in the minds of TV producers. I had hoped that a made-for TV murder mystery in Sweden a couple of decades later would have moved beyond Cracker, but no.

Not even our union knows what someone like me does. It is all clinical and counceling.

The not-that-kind of psychology, the basic, the scientific and very far away from Freud Psychology needs an image do-over and a marketing campaign. And I have no idea how to do it. Some teacher in marketing psychology I am.

I don’t know how to do it. People are fascinated by psychology, but don’t seem to want to deal with the real stuff (like the report that said the students didn’t like the quantitative stuff – and which I can’t find right now. Well, Fairytales and folk psychology it is then).

I want to wrest the topic from crappy TV shows suggesting we can profile people, and belief that psychology is about reading thoughts and minds. But how?

Perhaps I will put my marketing students on it.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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