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« Who knew I could be wrong in so many ways | Main | Maternity ward lesson »

Times a million

Natlamp73 Politicians, social-cause marketers, health product marketers and others have a particular problem that makes marketing difficult: The closer an issue is to the purchaser, the easier it is to use it with impact. People care about a fire in their movie theatre, a lot less about one across the country. People care about an illness that they have right now, a lot less about preventing something twenty years from now. When you create gaps in time or space, people lose interest.

There's another factor to consider as well: the consumer will be more motivated by something that she can have a direct influence on. Sure, every little bit helps, but every little bit is really difficult to market.

I was driving on the Taconic Parkway last week and noticed a Porsche Cayenne and a Ford Edge were keeping pace with me. I was driving my Prius and getting about 51 miles per gallon. The other two cars were averaging about 20 each. Here's an analysis I just grabbed from a random website:

Even though I drive over 35,000 miles per year, a CX-7 would only save me about $300 per year over an Explorer Limited V8 (with regular at $2.40 and premium at $2,60). Even though the Edge will run on regular, and probably achieve a bit better mileage than the CX-7, it would probably only save me about $900 per year on fuel vs the Explorer Limited V8. For someone who drives more typical distances, the annual savings would be less than half those amounts.

Notice the lack of "times a million" math.

If we figure that the average driver in the US does 20,000 miles a year, I'm going to use about 400 gallons of gas. A car getting 20 mpg is going to use closer to a thousand gallons. Figure that there are about 100 million actively driven cars in the US, which means that the net difference if "everybody did it" has the potential to save 60 billion gallons (600 times 100 million) of gas. A year.

No, this isn't a pitch to switch. It's a pitch to describe how amazingly difficult it is to market that story.

The guy above who's not going to switch from his Explorer to an Edge because it will only save him $300 a year is clearly not going to be interested (never mind moved) in the thought experiment above. It's too distant. Too far away.

The same as the person who buys one of the million bottles of Fiji water sold every year. The same as the person who doesn't want to know about a kid about to die... if the kid is thousands of miles away and it's not clear how one person can make a difference right now. Here's the thing: all marketers who whine about the distant do is annoy people. At least the people who don't care about the distant. They don't get "times a million" math, and repeating it with frequency isn't going to help much.

The reason PETA has had good success railing against fur coats is that they make it personal. The same way faith healers bring an impact to a room.

The lesson of the National Lampoon cover above, the best magazine cover in history, should be obvious by now. The way to sell the distant is to make it immediate. The way to sell the drop in a bucket is to make the bucket a lot smaller, not to extrapolate to even bigger numbers. "Buy this car and we'll kill 10 penguins" is a lot more powerful than "Buy this car and forty years from now, if everyone else buys a car like this one, your grandchildren are going to spit on your grave."

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