Shahriar Shahriari

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Message of the Month

September, 1998

Advertising sells... or does it?

"If you have a business, you have to get your name out there. You have to market yourself. You have to advertise. Advertising sells." This seems to be the battle cry of almost every business school and every conventional business.

To add insult to injury, we sometimes hear, "it really doesn’t matter what you have to sell or how good it is. As long as you can advertise and market it well, you will sell."

Perhaps there is a lot of truth in these sayings and guidelines. However, there is a basic assumption underlying this approach. The assumption is that people are stupid. Or a milder version of the same is to say people believe their eyes, if you manage to be there enough times. Or people are prone to being hypnotized by the constant media barrage. That our collective psyche can be played with, molded and formed in any way our marketing and advertising gurus decide, provided there is enough money behind it.

Perhaps there is a large element of truth in this also, in so far as it reflects our society. And this raises a number of questions. Can this work as a long term approach and is it moral? The answer to which is no and no. Perhaps this kind of campaign can create fads or at best work in the short term, but unless there is some value offered, it cannot be sustained for long. Just remember how many mediocre products and services have fallen by the way side. Just look at how many well-advertised products became obsolete, and the list continues.

As for its morality, there are two aspects to be considered. One is that any service or product that is not offered with excellence, leaves a gap between the ideal achievable and the achieved. This results in wastefulness. Waste of resources, energy, money, time, as well as intelligence. And that in itself is morally lacking.

Furthermore, in addition to the wasted resources in creation of the product or service, much energy is expended on creating a marketing or advertising campaign, only to offer mediocrity. If only we would spend the same intelligence and resources on our products and services as we spend on selling them…

Yet there are those small businesses that offer products and services of very high quality and value. They only go for excellence, and not necessarily at expensive prices. These businesses seem to have very little advertising budget. They predominantly, and in some cases totally rely on word of mouth and customer satisfaction to bring them referrals and new customers. Many restaurants operate this way. Healing professionals such as doctors, chiropractors and such like operate mainly that way. At least the good ones do. Certain products seem to take off slowly but surely because they are made with excellence. And so on. Yet we never hear of any of them becoming overnight successes. At least not to the meteoric standards that devout advertisers do.

So are the advertisers banking on the ignorance of the masses?

Perhaps the end of this millennium will mark a change in our consciousness. A change from reliance on what we hear and see, to a reliance on ourselves. Perhaps we the consumers will start taking responsibility for our purchases and only opt for excellence and quality, instead of what was the latest fad, the newest brand name and designer label, or the funkiest ad on TV.

And with our taking responsibility for our purchases, perhaps the producers will start taking notice, start spending less on advertising and trying to convince us to buy, and spend more on quality, thus giving us reason to buy. After all, the biggest enemy of excellence is mediocrity.

What comes to mind is a poem from ancient times, which loosely translated goes something like this:

Perfume is what fragrantly smells
Not whatever the perfumer tells.
No matter how well advertising sells
Everything its value clearly spells.
All the loud noise, tolling of the bells
Little use, if nonsense there dwells.

Shahriar Shahriari
Vancouver, Canada
September 1998

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