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Desperate for Attention and Dying: Advertising, vaping and the insidious wish to belong

Photo by Nery Zarate on Unsplash

Marketing has its geniuses just as science. Two stellar names stand out for entirely different reasons, but with the same goal; selling a product or concept. The names?

David Ogilvy, the sophisticated, impeccably dressed bon vivant of Madison Avenue and Steve Jobs, the “counter-culture” idol of computers and computer-related Macheads. They couldn’t appear or be more different from each other, but each was a master of the same craft, merchandising.

For the car-without-a-license plate Jobs summed it up this way: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules…” The man traditionally garbed in expensive $400 black mock turtleneck sweaters and jeans was the exact opposite of the other man in the tailored suit, the expensive tie, and the debonaire affect. Both, however, had a creed which they espoused and it is here that the magic happens.

Early attention-seeking behavior to survive

Psychologists know that being noticed and receiving attention for whatever reason drives both actions and purchases. Kids begin to exhibit this desire as soon as they’re born; it’s what keeps them alive. Why do baby birds screech all the time? They need the parents to feed them. But soon, babies and birds learn that always seeking attention isn’t what you do; independence comes to play. If it doesn’t, attention-seeking becomes a significant problem in their social interactions, in school and, later in life, their relationships, their careers — their whole life. Attention is what they crave the most at all costs.

In urban areas, kids subway surf and they get killed, but it doesn’t stop the others. Hitching a ride on the bumper of a bus is another way of getting attention. But these tools of focus aren’t always available, and they have to turn to other means to get their “fix” as they leave their early teens. That’s where marketing and advertising come in. Now the important thing is to have the money to buy the item they need for maintaining that all-important attention.

Standing out in a crowd by choice of clothing, body piercing, or blue hair isn’t new. The trends have been around long enough to become “normal.” What do you turn to when this no longer makes you stand out from the crowd?

Want to look intelligent? Wear horn-rim glasses from Warby Parker, drink tequila martinis or vape as this sample ad from The Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising indicates:

Ogilvy’s methods for ads

A book Ogilvy wrote, “Ogilvy on Advertisement,” contained his basic commandments for writing advertising copy. The headlines and text would be so enticing they would sell the product or the concept.

The ad maven indicated that, if you had $1 to spend, eighty cents had to go to writing the headline for the ad. Regardless of what his client wanted, Ogilvy knew that the appeal had to contain the central tenet, improvement of the buyer’s life. Getting attention is one improvement, undoubtedly.

Most of the message would be visual because that was an effective means of transmitting product appeal. Here, in abbreviated form, is how Ogilvy’s book tells you he handled products:

1. Do your homework and look for the “message” that hits home. “No sooner had cigarettes become decisively uncool when a sleek new nicotine delivery device started captivating our kids.

2. Recognize a big idea. Ask yourself five questions: 1. Did it make me gasp when I first saw it? 2. Do I wish I had thought of it myself? 3. Is it unique? 4. Does it fit the strategy to perfection? 5. Could it be used for 30 years? Thirty years sounds a bit long, but with cars and major appliances, it would be a great idea.

3. Explain their virtues more persuasively than your competitors, and differentiate them by the style. Styling to Ogilvy and Jobs was the stand-out feature. Jobs was a master of styling in all his products. Apple products themselves are matched by the superior styling of the packaging in which they are sold. Design of vaping pens is fresh, creative and makes each of them stand out in some way. The pens seemingly make a statement about sophistication.

4. Utilize word-of-mouth methods to spread the product into the culture. Social media is our word-of-mouth, and it is much more effective and reaches a far greater audience than people meeting on the street or in small group settings.

5. Photographs with an element of ‘story appeal’ are far above average in attracting attention. And use the consumer’s language. Assume you’re speaking to one person. Create a desirable situation.

Stanford University picked out a number of appeals in their research on vaping and among them were calls to celebrity association, youth, sweet flavors, special populations (cigarette ads have intensely advertised here), social appeal (groups using the product), smartness (the Einstein ads), helps you to quit smoking, environmental issues, tech appeal, and money-saving.

When it comes to money-saving, one pod for a vape device delivers the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. What is the saving here? Substantial.

What they do for love

Acceptance and status to teens and adults alike are what most strive for in their lives. If a product can convey status, might it not also do the same for acceptance? It would seem so, and this is why women began to smoke certain products (Virginia Slims), young consumers drink Crown Royal or drive a BMW or want a Maybach. It’s all in the advertising that is produced to sell sophistication, youthful appearance, financial security, and style.

Currently, the tide has turned somewhat against cigarette smoking after years of defensive ads denying an association with lung cancer. Laws against smoking in restaurants, schools, hospitals, and near public buildings plus health information have dulled the appeal of cigarettes. Enter the new form of “smoking,” vaping. What are the benefits?

Vaping is cheaper than cigarettes yet provides the addictive nicotine smokers require, and they come in “kits.” The term kit would seem to have a tech appeal for the user and a sense of futurity. Knowing the market, as Ogilvy stated, is apparent by the use of this term.

Pods for the units also come in appealing flavors such as Crème Brulee, Cool Cucumber, Cool Mint, Mango, Menthol, Classic Tobacco and a variety of other fruit-like flavorings. The flavoring is dependent on the brand of kit that is purchased. Do any of them have comments on safety on the package? Perhaps a note about nicotine but it’s limited.

Some e-cigarette producers say they are safe. Cigarette ads used to tout their “health” benefits and that physicians smoked certain brands.

Safety of any product, whether food or for addiction, even an alcohol-based milk product sold several decades ago, is required. Research has supported the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol to health. Only one restriction remains and that is age.

Sex appeal, youthfulness, and a desire to be “wanted” and noticed are profoundly resistant to calls to health and products will be bought. People are willing to take health risks to be one of the group or to gain the attention they crave.

Death may not be an issue for them. Better to live and be happy than to be concerned about 20 years down the road would seem to be a credo to which they subscribe.

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