The art of persuasion

Despite spending most of my working career associated with advertising, I watch very few commercials on television. As a life-long Subaru owner, it is perhaps no surprise that two of my favorites are for that vehicle.

The first, which I have watched over and over (thanks to the DVR, which ironically also allows me to skip most commercials), begins with a man and his lab puppy. The milestones of his life (wife, child) are marked by the aging of the dog, and in the final shot he helps a white-whiskered lab from the car. It reminds me so much of Maggie, who made so many happy trips with us in a Subaru.

In the second, a dad waits with his small daughter at the bus stop. He asks her if she is excited about starting school and she bravely nods “yes” but her face is so wrinkled with worry lines that my heart breaks—especially because she reminds me of my sister when she was little who had an equally expressive face and a tendency to worry. I remember quite vividly my mother walking both of us up the street to school, my sister dreading the prospect. In the commercial, the girl climbs stoically into the bus, and her father jumps into his Subaru to drive alongside—and looks up to see his daughter laughing happily with the other kids. (It took my sister a bit longer to adapt to kindergarten.)

I was invited to my high school last week to be part of a career panel discussion on marketing. In preparation I tried to think objectively about marketing—what it is exactly, and what I like so much about it. In answer to one of the students’ questions, I said that marketing was about persuading. To do that you need to speak directly to the consumer, to touch a chord. The 45 minutes answering questions with two fellow alums went by so fast, I am not sure if we clarified anything for the students, or left them more confused. Certainly marketing has a dark side—promoting tobacco or sugar-laden foods for example—but, when employed for more positive purposes, the art of persuasion is a worthy art indeed.

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