I revisited the film version of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange recently, and a certain famous sequence got me thinking about marketing in general and a current marketing trend in particular.
If you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember how Alex, the teen delinquent who undergoes an experimental treatment to remove his attraction to violence, is forced to watch film clips of various atrocities while a drug induces nausea. Unfortunately, the treatment has an unintended side effect. While Alex is watching footage of Nazi soldiers, he notices that the background music being played is none other than his beloved Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. From this point forward, listening to the “Ode to Joy” will cause the same feelings of sickness and dread as participating in a brutal act against society. The doctor notes this but shrugs it off: “Can’t be helped.”
I wonder how many businesses are sabotaging their own marketing campaigns in much the same way. These days it seems as if every time I hear a business owner give a presentation, every time I catch a radio or TV spot, every time I glance at a direct mail piece, the first phrase invariably includes something like “In these challenging economic times…” or “Times are tough, so…” or some other lethal phrase that sucks all the joy out of the room, assuming there was any joy there to begin with. Suddenly your customer can’t hear the rest of your pitch with its brilliant solution and inspiring call to action; they’ve already associated you with depression and fear, just like Alex’s retching to Beethoven despite himself.
I know it’s a common technique in marketing to “present the pain and then relieve it,” and of course you want to relate to your customers and show that you care. In a generally positive environment, this technique works beautifully. But if there’s already a dominant negative mood in the air, starting with pain will bring people down so low that you’re lucky if you can even bring them back up to ground level. And ground level never sold anything.
When I hear “troubled times” launching a sales pitch I get depressed just like everyone else, and now the seller has to work a near-miracle to pull me out of my gloom. What gets my attention in “troubled times?” A 180-degree attitude adjustment, or what the NLP experts call a “pattern interrupt.” I want someone to tell me how I can be bigger, better, and more successful than ever RIGHT NOW! I want permission to buck the trend with outrageous optimism. Unrealistic? Who cares! It’s the unrealistic optimists who have the energy to get things done — and that positivity is contagious. People want to do business with Mr. Lookahead, not Captain Bringdown.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to the “Ode to Joy.”