Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Liberation Marketing and Consumer Society


Not too long ago the presumed epitome of marketing was “Lifestyle Marketing,” a technique especially designed to trump the customary leveraging of selling points, value, quality, service and the like. Lifestyle Marketing assumed, along with the unending expansion of capitalism, an unending consumption of goods and services by consumers who would buy more than they need, or possibly could afford, in search of their own personal identity.

During the late 1990s, consumers began to react against big brands, big corporations, and marketing campaigns that endeavored to co-opt their minds and decisions. Youthful consumers eschewed the hype of marketing, invoked a counter-cultural response, and refused to let marketers use media to confuse them about the real and the trivial.

American life seemed to be reorganizing around the needs of corporations, many of which had grown bigger than many of the countries in the world. The corporation was becoming the dominate institution on the landscape.

Management gurus, like Tom Peters, even emerged telling us that we as individuals are “brands,” with his dictum: “the brand called you.”

Corporate marketers and advertising agencies, under pressure to sell yet one more thing, eventuated “Liberation Marketing” to trump Lifestyle Marketing. The theory was that brands would pose as revolutionaries acting on our individual behalf to save us from the Coca-Colas of the world. How? They would sell the apparatus of “cool,” “hip,” “alternative” – without of course ever actually being cool, hip, or alternative themselves.

Marketing had outdone itself to become anti-marketing. The Gap began selling khakis to us through celebrity marketing, with Jack Kerouac as their celebrity. He was cool, he wore khakis, we would be cool as well with khakis from The Gap.

However, it was all too transparent. People didn’t really believe that most big corporations were ”cool.” They already knew what The Gap was, and “Liberation Marketing” quickly fell into disrepute as just another technique for driving the consumer society and subverting individual identity to a marketed image.

This doomed episode in the history of marketing taught us two things:

  1. A Brand cannot stand for what it isn’t for very long, because the consumer has become too perceptive.
  2. Consumerism is reaching the end of its run, and enterprises will have to come from a more authentic place in order to succeed. Only those enterprises that offer something people actually want will survive the end of consumerism.

Now, interestingly, Liberation Marketing has been effectively adopted by true anti-consumerist enterprises. Today, Liberation Marketers speak directly to the problems of consumerism, multi-national corporations, media, power, and culture, finding an authentic voice across which to earn a living and contribute to the world.

Rather than just using the icons of individualism and freedom to sell products, true Liberation Marketers provide the actual products and services that Lifestyle Marketers will try to copy when they hear of them. These are the authentic products in use in genuine society, the actual products and services purchased by people living more authentic lives in a genuine way.

In these cases, Liberation Marketing isn’t the activity of a corporate giant who hires the services of ‘cool-finders’ to provide icons for media propagation. Nor is it Corporate America trying to capitalize on alternative culture, by buying “cool credentials,” such as Coca-Cola buying Odwalla, or Quaker Oats buying Snapple.

Authentic Liberation Marketing is an expression of the consumption habits of real people. It is not the stuff of consumerism. It is the avant-garde itself, using marketing and media to regain and promote authenticity in the culture with a message that encourages us to be authentic in our lives.

What are some examples of this authenticity in modern corporations:

  • The Body Shop’s illustration of a rubenesque woman as its model, exhorting all women to “love their body” with the headline: “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do.”
  • Celestial Seasonings selling “Soothing Teas For A Nervous World,” with all-natural products based upon Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.
  • Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, accompanied by a picture of Amelia Erhart in her flight suit, and turning the relationship between people and machines on its head.
  • And once, it was Nike with “Just Do It,” before we found reasons to question Nike’s sincerity.

All of these examples are the opposite of being “marketed to.” If anything, these are examples of being “marketed for.” Today in our overcommunicated world, there is a hunger for depth and meaning, truth and authenticity. People want products and services with real meaning in their lives.

Consider: How might these principles of Liberation Marketing apply to marketing your enterpise?

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