Sell Me Something, But Make It Worth Buying

John Gerzema of Young and Rubicam has co-authored a new book, Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live.

Inc. spoke to the author about the themes in the book and how the Great Recession is changing consumer buying habits, maybe for good.

Q. Many people have been financially devastated by the recession. Probably most were spooked by it. Is that enough to end consumerism as we know it?

A. When you consider layoffs, downsizing, delayed raises, and reduced hours, more than half of all American workers have suffered losses. This very real pain has driven us to reconsider our definition of the good life. People are finding happiness in old-fashioned virtues — thrift, do-it-yourself projects, self-improvement, faith, and community — and in activities and relationships outside the consumer realm. Our data show large numbers saying money is no longer as important to them. Seventy-six percent say the number of possessions they own doesn’t affect how happy they are.

Does it mean consumerism is dead? No. But we are moving from mindless to mindful consumption. That’s a fact of life when housing values will no longer provide an ATM to fund our spending and people are working longer to repair lost wealth. From now on, we will spend money that is ours, not the bank’s. Therefore, our purchases will become more considered.

Later in the interview Gerzema says, “Businesses have to make gestures that go beyond words. Persuasion no longer works.”

That’s a pretty radical statement from an ad guy. As an ad guy myself, I want to go along with his attack on persuasion, but I’d need to read the book before I could come around to this line of thinking. In other words, I need to be persuaded ;-0

What’s not in dispute is the fact that the job of persuasion has never been more difficult. Additionally, traditional advertising as a tool of persuasion has been diminished. The job is harder then ever and the tools we know best how to use are not as effective as they once were.

There’s no time to cry about it, marketers and their legions must adjust on the fly. In today’s awakened economy, where every purchase is carefully considered, I certainly want persuasion on my side. The thing is, persuasion isn’t found in a smart ad campaign alone, but in every move a company makes.

For me, there’s one famous company that is no longer persuasive.

Have you been in an Apple retail store lately? I was in one yesterday and not one staff member said hello to me or asked me if I had a need they might address. They were too busy, I guess. Then there’s the sticker shock on products I don’t really need. The Great Recession has kicked a lot of asses in this nation, mine included. I do need a computer, but I don’t need a new computer, nor every new variation of one that emerges from Cupertino.

Personally, I’m pleased by heightened consumer awareness–my own, and the heightened awareness in others. I don’t want to buy crap and I certainly do not want to help sell someone else’s crap. I’ve done it before–most ad people have. But that’s not what I’m doing now and I don’t see myself turning back. There’s no need when there are plenty of truly good businesses that need marketing communications help.

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