“Addiction marketing” is a phrase I coined a few years ago while waiting in line for my drink at Starbucks. He was observing the mass of people who, like lost explorers in the desert, running in search of an oasis, seemed desperate for their daily (if not more frequent) dose of caffeine. It was around this time that I realized that one of Starbucks’ key business drivers, if not its most critical business driver, was that Starbucks sells products that cater to people’s addictive tendencies. What Starbucks has done better than many other addictive marketers is that they also make it cool and trendy to succumb to their addiction. In today’s blog post, I’ll examine addiction as a key success factor in business.
When I was in school, economics professors lectured on using supply and demand drivers to create business advantage … business professors evangelized the strengths of recurring value and the stability of consumable products. Marketing professors would embrace the benefits of relationship marketing, but nowhere do I recall being able to sign up for a class on addictions. However, if you think about “addiction marketing,” you’ll quickly realize what the “media promoters” on Madison Avenue and the marketing and product development gurus in the business world have known for years. All people have their unique set of vulnerabilities that, if exploited creatively and effectively, will generate strong sales and powerful brands.
If you read the business news over the weekend, you may have noticed that the Indian government is trying to force Coca Cola and Pepsi to reveal the formulas of their popular drinks. One of the charges being held in the High Court of India is that Coca-Cola and Pepsi products are addictive and harmful to health … Hmmm … Examine the following representative list of successful companies and / or industries and Come to your own conclusions as to whether these companies or industries take advantage of the addictions of consumers around the world to generate their income:
Las Vegas – The motto “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” satisfies practically every possible addiction under the sun … Sin City lives up to its reputation.
Sticker Body Spray – Tag’s recent commercial campaign has taken the phrase “Sex Sells” to a whole new level … In this campaign, all a teenager has to do is spray themselves with the Tag product and they find themselves instantly being attacked by hordes of attractive young women … If you have a teenage son, it would be a safe bet that Tag is his favorite cologne.
The beer and alcohol industry – It will be difficult to find a beer or alcohol company that does not represent the consumption of your beverage as the key ingredient for a lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women, successful races, etc.
The tobacco industry – The tobacco industry has been publicly criticized for selling products that take advantage of the addictive effects of nicotine and even with all the known health hazards that smokers face, in many cases the addictive nature of the product is greater than people’s ability to make a logical decision.
I don’t think anyone would dispute the examples noted in the list above as obviously taking advantage of addictive consumer tendencies. However, what about the more subtle side of the addiction business? Isn’t Starbucks using the same addictive business tactics as the industries mentioned above? What about companies in the luxury goods sector? Companies that sell high-end products and services cater to the elite attitudes of this segment, allowing consumers to make statements about their socioeconomic status based on the products they buy. Doesn’t this also address addictive tendencies?
Okay, now I’ll get a little closer to home … What about my company’s value proposition? We sell success … Is it not possible to consider success as an addiction? What about the social media industry? Are social media users and bloggers addicted to interaction, attention, etc.? What does the new media platform offer? While I could go on, I think my point has already been made … I am certainly not implying that all consumers are addicts, nor am I implying that all companies are “traffickers”, but I am pointing out that addiction marketing sells and that many companies use this as a strategic advantage. In fact, I think the evidence is clear that a company can create a strong strategic advantage in sustainability if it does not find ethical flaws in what I have called “addiction marketing.”
Bottom line is that I love traveling and watching movies and I don’t think that will make me an escapist … I have a predilection for Starbucks (venti caramel Frappacinos in particular) and I don’t think I’m caffeine addicted, I appreciate fine clothes and cars from quality and I don’t think that makes me a social elitist. However, I have also come to realize that my perceived addictive tendencies are clearly trying to be harnessed by creative and smart marketing and product development efforts. I leave you with the following questions for you to ponder:
What is the difference between pleasure and addiction?
Do you think “addiction marketing” is ethical?
Does your business engage in addictive marketing strategies and tactics?
And when was the last time you made a purchase based on your addiction?