Marketers will relearn to trust their intuition: Excerpts from a new book series on the rise of post-modern marketing

Chapter one: The Pre-Modern Era

Each month The Drum will be publishing a chapter from Paradox. Feeling Machines and the Rise of Post-Modern Marketing, a book exploring the story of marketing’s transformation – from pre-modern to modern to post-modern. In the first chapter: The Pre-Modern Era, we explore how early scientific investigations appear to align perfectly with the intuition of early marketers.

Many senior marketers likely felt caught with their trousers down by the speed and ferocity with which digital technology overran their industry, giving birth to modern marketing. But those with a keen sense of marketing history may have anticipated it upon seeing the very first website.

Turns out that, from the beginning, science and technology have continuously reshaped marketing – it’s not a new thing. Time and again, neuroscientists align almost eerily with Freud (though without the total focus on sex) by defining multiple brain “subsystems,” all of which feed into the conscious mind.

Connecting products with unconscious feelings

Starting in 1919, Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) introduced the business world to psychoanalysis and Freud’s “Self”, and showed corporations they could sell products by connecting them with people’s unconscious feelings.

Among Bernays’ earliest and most successful applications of his approach was a programme to expand the market for Lucky Strike cigarettes. The challenge: get the non-smoking female half of the U.S. to start smoking. To do so, Bernays consulted with a psychoanalyst who told him that, to women, cigarettes symbolized male power.

In reality of course, women were no freer for having taken up smoking, but linking smoking to women's rights fostered a feeling of independence. Given subsequent sales growth, the campaign was deemed a brilliant success.

Not only did Berynas make it “cool” for women to smoke, he made it cool for kids to love soap through soap-sculpting competitions (on behalf of Ivory Soap) and he invented the “hearty” American breakfast of bacon and eggs (on behalf of The Beechnut Packing Company, whose bacon sales were lagging).

Emotion as the ‘must-have’ ingredient in marketing

Perhaps most relevant to advertising and marketing are the ideas of Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of California at Berkeley. Without intending to do so, Damasio’s work shows that Bernays and the Mad Men who followed were precisely on-target. He asserts that “emotion” is an absolute must-have ingredient in “rational” thinking; you cannot think rationally without emotional input.

The lure of analytics and math

In the one hundred years from Freud to Damasio, marketing as we know it today emerged and hit all the right notes – often intuitively. But marketing was subsequently seduced from this true, emotionally rooted path by the lure of “left-brain” analytics and math. First, the math of quantitative research made possible by mainframe computers; later the math of modern marketing arising from the internet and digital marketing data and analytics.

We believe the coming Post-Modern Marketing era will mark a return to the true path, with marketers re-learning to trust their intuition when it comes to ideas resonant with human emotion. But this re-set will not take place with blind trust, because the scientists have shown how intuition can go wrong without the balance of healthy scepticism.

Or, as Stein IAS’ Michael Ruby, chief content and experience officer, puts it, “People lost sight of the fact that we can make really cool and intuitive and fun and interesting things, and still have the technology that we didn’t have before to make it structured, shareable, measurable and multidimensional.”

Chapter 1: The Pre-Modern Era, can be reviewed or downloaded in its entirety here. Coming next month: Chapter 2: Modern Marketing.