Saturday Iced Mocha #9 — Advertising is Pervasive… Insidious… and Effective

I’m in the midst of a high priority fundraising push at work. Unfortunately it’s not gone as smoothly as I would like, although it’s turned in a positive direction over the past few weeks. This process has pushed me to reflect more on my strengths and weaknesses and most notably, my lack of appreciation, or perhaps better articulated as disdain, for promotion. It hit me hard a few weeks ago that the fundraising process was going to remain a significant grind unless I was willing to be more promotional.

My guess is these written musings present a fairly measured, yet wandering brain at work; I tend to present our company in a similar fashion, with an emphasis on balance. The reality is that when I compare the opportunity in front of our company to others within our industry that have enjoyed more fundraising success than us, there are two main differences. First, I firmly believe our company has a much stronger team and platform for success. Second, we’re much less promotional and it’s as simple as that. In my biased perspective, our company is in an incredibly unique, enviable position, yet I think my audience often loses this point in my balanced presentation of our story. Unfortunately my approach to fundraising had been like my approach to overall strategic decision making and it was proving ineffective. In hindsight, I was “selling” while thinking my audience was a bunch of folks just like me. To state the obvious, it turns out most investors want to hear how they’re going to make a lot of money, not simply be part of building something great.

I wrote a while back about how our world’s largest companies have shifted toward actually being advertising platforms (#4 — It’s Just Business). Advertising is so pervasive, I believe we are becoming numb to it. And unfortunately this numbness isn’t manifesting itself in a lack of effectiveness of advertising; it’s simply making us less likely to hold false advertising (shall I include fake news) accountable. I was delighted to see Michael Lewis take on the gurus of decision making, now often considered behavioral economics, with his latest book, The Undoing Project. I was excited, both to be able to read another Lewis book (I read Liar’s Poker in 1996), and also because Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman has long been one of my top book recommendations (for a less esoteric alternative, Dan Ariely’s, Predictably Irrational is easier to digest). The problem with humanity gaining a greater appreciation for how we respond to the mix of our conscious and subconscious tendencies is that the most pervasive application of this science is found within the well-funded companies and special interests that are using it to influence us.

I’m generally a vocal supporter of free markets and self interest, or the profit motive, to help solve problems, yet free market capitalism is far from perfect. Advertising might be the most insidious aspect of capitalism; I have a hard time deciding between advertising and buying politicians. An incredibly important topic I haven’t figured out how to write about yet is accountability, which I think is at least one of the core missing ingredients today, particularly with a corporate legal system built upon “fiduciary duties”, which expressly tie to maximizing profit for shareholders above all else.

By the way, if anyone has a lot of extra money lying around, seven figures preferably, let me know; we’re building the greatest company ever (Starbucks and Patagonia combined). I guarantee it.