A Shift in Philosophy

One of the realities that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed is the degree to which our culture has shifted in the type of consumerism which it promotes.

I remember back in the early 1980s listening to a NPR interview with a guy who had written a book about modern marketing philosophies. I remember it to this day because of the shift that he had noted began to take place during the 1960s. He described how for much of the 20th century marketing had been focused on shaming people into buying products.

Then a shift occurred where consumer product marketers began to promote products by telling people that they deserved to have it. Every time I think of this interview I remember the old McDonald’s jingle, “You deserve a break today…”.

Another Shift in Philosophy

At some point over the past forty years, another shift took place. Instead of our choices being about the purchase of consumer products, like cars or clothing, mostly based on the label of the product, not the quality, they turned to ideas. My assumption is that this began to change once luxury brands began producing their own knock-off brands for sales in outlet malls. When a consumer product no longer carries a luxury cache’, it becomes a value product. It was about this time that ideas became luxury items.

Most of these ideas had to do with how a person is socially or politically aligned within the culture. It was a very subtle return back to the older marketing form of shaming people. The question now is whether you are woke, as the younger generation describes. To be woke, a play on the word awake, means that you have adopted a mindset that sets you apart and above people who lack that mindset. In order for this new consumer culture to succeed, it must offer a negative contrast to those who believe differently. Woke culture is a consumer culture. All consumer cultures are designed to define personal identity.

It is the same social dividing paradigm that divides Ford owners from Chevy owners. Is there an appreciable difference between a Ford F150 pickup truck and a Chevy Silverado? Their owners may think so. As well as their marketing departments. But the differences are simulated ones. Read the reviews in car magazines, TV shows and auto blogs, and they’ll tell you that the differences are in the options, not the basic organization of the truck. The ultimate end of the marketing process is not an informed choice, but rather a conformed choice. Whatever the representative culture of Ford and Chevy owners is they want their owners to conform their purchase choices to being a part of that culture.

The marketing of political divisions along party lines serves the interest of the parties in the same way. Create a consumer culture of choice which is not based upon the ideas themselves, but the culture which represents those ideas. The weakness of this approach is that it is built upon a platform of condescension. Shame as a social phenomenon is nothing more than social positioning. As a non-aligned, non-partisan person, my assumption is that the product being marketed through a shame mindset is hiding its inherent weaknesses.

When Conventional Marketing Fails

As my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change, was in production, my marketing team and I worked on the market for it. Who is our ideal marketing avatar? Even after the book was published, I’d have conversations with LinkedIn marketing consultants about marketing the book. None of these marketing people could understand that I was challenging the premise of “divide and conquer” the marketing place. They each wanted to divide the market by the position or role that a person would have in a business. There are a lot of products that are perfect for that approach. But not all. My book was not one of them.

I asked the following question …

Is the book for …

  • HR managers? Yes.
  • stay-at-home Dad’s who are homeschooling their children? Yes.
  • high school juniors? Yes.
  • corporate CEOs in a changing industry? Yes.
  • young professionals seeking a career? Yes.
  • marketers who don’t understand why their programs are not working? Yes.
  • the guy who works a blue collar job during the day and is trying to write detective novels at night? Yes.
  • the office manager of a local business? Yes.
  • the photographer / painter who is trying to find their audience? Yes.
  • the spouse of a retired person? Yes.
  • college basketball coaches? Yes.
  • scientists? Yes.
  • executive assistants? Yes.
  • police, fire and military service personnel? Yes.
  • bookstore owners? Yes.
  • sales people? Yes.
  • entertainment industry personalities? Yes.
  • the presidents of universities? Yes.
  • entrepreneurs? Yes.
  • software engineers? Yes.
  • executive coaches and consultants? Yes.
  • everyone? Yes.

My experience in marketing my book taught me some valuable lessons.

  • People are more than their occupational descriptions and their social standing in their community.
  • People are more alike than different.
  • People want to be respected. And, they want to trust the companies and organizations who market to them.

However, when the relationship between marketers and the consumer is only a transactional one, then establishing respect and trust may be difficult.

If you are unsure of this, ask yourself to what degree do you find companies accountable to you. If you have a problem, how do they handle your problem?

My experience as a consumer has taught me that I’d rather purchase from someone that I can talk to face-to-face than online.

Just who then is the book written for if it is for all those different people listed above?

It is a book for people in transition.

Yes, I know that there is no marketing category of transition. Yet, we are all in transition. All of us. Now more than ever. People are looking for help in this transition. My book can help them.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the clearest evidence yet of the transition that I’ve been seen for the past half century. This crisis is forcing a level of change that few of us have ever experienced. This is not a transition to a new normal. This is a transition that changes everything.


The Transition That Matters Right Now

Clearly the world is in transition.

When an agency of the government can force the economies of the world to shut down over a virus, it marks a transition in the role that governments have in people’s lives. I know many people who simply trusted the government to always do what was in the best interest of the people. They are reconsidering that trust.

That is one transition.

Another is how we see ourselves in the context of having to shelter-at-home during mandatory locked-down orders. For many of us, we are used to being free to go jump in our car and drive across town to go see a movie or visit our favorite restaurant. We now have this switch in our minds that we feel we must flip before we walk out the door. The social pressure that has come from the marketing of the pandemic means a new form of woke culture.

This is a transition from where we were two months ago. Because so much of marketing is a form of simulator training, conditioning to think, respond, and conform in a particular way, we all fall in line rather easily.

A third transition is one that I am asking each of you to consider.

When I first started blogging in 2004, I’d find something from the internet and comment on it. This practice went on for about five years. Then a subtle transition happened. I started to create my own content. Less and less I commented on others. The ultimate end of this practice was the creation of my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change.

The lesson here is that the COVID-19 experience provides us an opportunity to shift the approach to our lives from being consumers to being creators.

I’m not suggesting that you should write a book. You can if that is what it means for you to be a creator. I’m thinking about creatorship in much broader terms.

My definition of leadership is that “all leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters.” This is what it means to be a creator. You are making decisions for yourself. You are taking action to create change. You are your own person, knowing you own mind, and following your own course in life. This is the opposite of letting marketers define who you are.


Impact Starts With Me

Think about that for a second. Think about what it feels like to start something that matters to you. Think about creating something that has your name on it.

I’m in the process of writing an email that will go into greater depth about this idea of being a creator. It is called Impact Starts With Me. It will be available in early May. If you’ll sign up for my newsletter, Circle of Initiators, you’ll be the first to know when it is released.

If impact can start with you, then you can take all those ideas that you have consumed and rework them as ways of taking initiative about the things that matter to you. This is what it means to go through the transition from being a consumer to being a creator of impact.



Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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