Why Big Pharma is Smarter Than You… And Other Thanksgiving Musings

It’s hard to be a genius when you’re surrounded by family. And numbed by food. And liquor.

Yet in spite of these challenges, I managed to elevate my thinking to at least curb-level for the average Joe or Jane. And here’s where that thinking landed (random but brilliant, as you’ll soon see):

1. Pharmaceutical companies have us by the balls.

Why? Because they know exactly where we’re weak. Where we FEEL. And they feel no shame, no restraint when it comes to poking us there.

Depressed? Our pill will drag you out of a suicidal stupor!

Impotent? Our pill will resurrect your love life and repair your self-esteem!

Fat? No problem! Our happy little pill will melt away the pounds and ensure you’ll be the envy of all your “friends” at the upcoming class reunion!

Dying of cancer? We can make that better, too! Uh… somehow.

Seriously, folks. If you’re looking for the secret to effective marketing, look no further than Big Pharma. They’re selling us a fairy tale of happiness and perfection like we haven’t seen since Barbie and Ken built their Malibu beach house… and we’re buying it to the tune of $350 billion per year.

You want a benchmark for good marketing? Benchmark Viagra, baby.

2. Smart companies are thinking “lifestyle” not “brand”.

Let’s face it: most companies are obsessed with the concept of “building or extending their brand.” It’s all about domination. Bigger, better faster… or all of the above. The problem with that is that nobody—but the company—really gives a hoot about the brand. Unless of course it enhances your personal sense of self-worth to have said brand plastered alongside your sunglasses (or your tshirt or car or other unmentionable).

The brands that have shifted their thinking toward the concept of “lifestyle” are, meanwhile, quietly winning the race. Which is why I think that ultimately, privacy issues will lose to the subtle and clever juggernaut that is otherwise known as “behavioral targeting”.

Takeaway message: Stop focusing on your brand, your product, or how miraculously cool and unique you are. Figure out what blood-curdling problem your product/service solves and describe that in the context of the torturously boring, frustrating, and otherwise unsatisfying lives that most people lead these days. Show us how it will TURN OUR LIVES AROUND!!! HALLELUJAH!!!

If you think I’m kidding, think again. And take a quick peek at the highly-profitable business of evangelical preaching, for further evidence.

3. CEOs, even the smartest and most successful of them, still share the same Achilles heel: believing that their uber-unique product can and will be all things to all people.

“No need to do market research or focus on a specific market segment: This widget is for E-V-E-R-Y-B-O-D-Y!!!”

Christ, if I had a penny for every time I heard the head of a company—large or small, young or mature—make that claim (implied or otherwise), I’d be a gazillionaire. Everybody thinks their brilliant idea will cure cancer, solve world hunger, and make them the object of Angelina Jolie’s (or Brad Pitt’s) desire.

And monkeys are flying out of my butt in big droves right this very minute.

Seriously, folks: if you want to blow a whole lot of money really friggin’ fast, then please, don’t stop for a second to think about your market or define it with any specificity. Launch a balls-out half-assed, totally generic marketing campaign that touts the wonders of your miracle product! Send your sales people on a wild goose-chase of “landing any account with a heartbeat and a bank account” and wrap yourself in the warm embrace of Denial, Ignorance, and Downright Stupidity!


This kind of thinking, by the way, is what keeps me gainfully employed and my services in CONSTANT demand! So please… don’t stop!

4. Accept the fact that the way you do anything is the way you do everything:
Half-assed or balls-out. Strategic or reactive. Creative or cliché. Know your strengths and cater to them. NOURISH THEM. Know your weaknesses too, and deal with them.

And for God’s sake, don’t be a lemming… Rise above the temptation to follow the heard and blaze your OWN trail this season—and the next. Trust me when I tell you that the worst thing that can happen to you isn’t a bad sales quarter: it’s having to hire me to help you out of the grave you just dug for yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Targeted Online Ads: Brilliant or creepy?

With Facebook, MySpace, and Google energetically elbowing each other out of the way in their bid for World Domination, I can’t help but wonder what’s more scary: the fact that Rupert Murdoch might buy one (or all) of them and effectively own the United States? Or the fact that they’re amassing a frighteningly large amount of data on us, based on our behavior online?

When I first read about things like “portable personalization” and “behavioral targeting,” I thought… cool. With all the technology we have at our fingertips these days, there is really no excuse for irrelevant advertising and non-sequetor junk mail. Like this ad from the good folks at “MegaDi*ck,” which landed in my Spam folder earlier this week:

“The latest investigations have discovered, that males with bigger penises are more successful!” 

If I had a penis, perhaps I would care.

But then, I read this little bit of braggadocio from the CEO of NebuAd, which raised >$30 million in venture funds recently:

“We see all of the pages you go to and all of the searches you do,” CEO Bob Dykes said. When combined, that information provides marketers with a “much greater level of insight into what you’re doing,” he said.

Ok, that’s just creepy.

When asked to address the privacy concerns voiced by watch-dog organizations like The World Privacy Forum and the Center for Digital Democracy (who argue that companies like NebuAd should not create profiles on any user without first obtaining opt-in consent—period), Dykes responded by [what else?] downplaying the privacy concerns and emphasizing that the company doesn’t store records of search queries:

“We don’t want the government on our door saying, ‘Tell us all people who do a search on guns,'” he said.

Well, gee, I feel so much better!

Advocates of behavioral targeting are pushing the “opt-in” angle, suggesting that the benefits outweigh the risks: less Spam, fewer annoying, intrusive banner ads and pre-rolls that bear no resemblance to your personal interests or needs. The end result would be a much more enjoyable online experience, where you receive more of the stuff you do care about and less of the stuff you don’t.

But my concern is that most web-users don’t get the whole “opt in” thing to begin with—let alone how the term applies to “behavioral targeting”. My parents, for example, are still trying to figure out where the “forward” button is… and they spawned a GENIUS, for chrissakes!

As a passionate advocate of social media and the democratization of the World Wide Web, I think I’m leaning toward the opt-in only side of the argument. Certainly, there are plenty of tools out there already (and more popping up everyday) that help me find information that’s relevant to my tastes and interests—without having it shoved down my throat by advertisers. Or worse yet, used to put me on some government watch-list.

The final nail in the coffin for me will be when Google-DoubleClick joins forces with Big Pharma. Or Big Tobacco. Or Big Oil. (Or perhaps all three at once with a nice, firm handshake in the Oval Office!…)

Until then, I’m going to hope that my last Google search for “tax evasion” combined with a visit to DishonestAccountants.com doesn’t land me in hot water with my buddies at the IRS.

Wish me luck.