The Top 10 Triumphs of Demand Creation

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pt_2406_1538_o[1]A few years ago, the New York subway system was plastered with ads for a drug called Claritin.  Mostly, these were photos of lush, green landscapes and pretty models having some kind of ‘moment of clarity’. I had no idea what Claritin did, but I’d never seen a woman that full of clarity before.  Too bad Claritin was hardly more effective than a sugar pill at treating allergies. You could have poured honey in your underwear and gotten the same results.  Demand creation is not new, but it’s proven its resilience in a society flush with borrowed cash and surplus leisure time.

When you think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there’s little ambiguity at the bottom.  Food, clothing, shelter.  Without these, you are probably cold, naked, and cranky.  Everything else is based on feelings and perceptions. Even safety is just a feeling that an invading army of Persians can’t take away your favorite skinny jeans and Weaver Chicken Nuggets.  In markets where even the homeless have iPods (in France, they also have chambermaids), the challenge is to make you want things just because you can afford them.

Here is my list of the top ten triumphs of demand generation and why they worked:

1. Drugs and vitamins

  • Restless leg syndrome.  Really?
  • A.D.D. – Surely, it’s not your shoddy genetics or poor parenting, it’s a disease.
  • You’d take in more usable nutrition eating wood chips than taking most vitamins, but tell that to GNC.

Tactics Used:

  • Constantly identifying new ailments.
  • Describing conditions so generically that everyone thinks they have it.
  • Funding studies with questionable methodologies that indicate correlation, but rarely causality.
  • Releasing study results through clueless media outlets prone to taking them at face value.
  • Direct to consumer advertising

Why it Worked:

  • Drugs are easier than exercise.
  • Offers the illusion of control.
  • Consumers and media do not apply critical thinking to things that look official or are recommended by doctors and other authority figures.

2. Bottled Water

Funny, no one had a water bottle during business meetings in 80’s and hardly anyone died.

Maybe water harvested by magical gnomes from the Swiss Alps is superior.  I’ll never know.

Tactics used:

  • Scary health studies – stay hydrated or you’ll die.
  • Big marketing spend on packaged municipal water
  • Availability
  • “Springs” are cleaner than”sewers”, where all other water must be from

Why it Worked:

  • Adult version of nursing
  • It’s everywhere
  • Convenience
  • No more public water fountains
  • Affordable

3. Diamonds

This is one of the most preposterous schemes ever concocted.  (Click this link to learn more.)  It’s the modern day equivalent of making people believe chicken bones are precious by having Angelina Jolie wear them on her head.

Tactics Used:

  • The DeBeers cartel controls the supply
  • Multi-decade marketing campaign to establish worthless crystals as precious
  • Used movies and media to build a myth, like the one about the Monks on Nestle’s Bavarian pretzel box.

Why it Worked:

  • Women want to believe in fairy tales…and, men want women.
  • Forces of conformity are too powerful. Ever see a woman showing off her new engagement ring?  Never.

4. Beauty Products 
(youth inducing creams, cosmetics, toiletries, etc)

Tactics Used:

  • Pseudo-science (3 out of 4 Dermatologists say …you are still wrinkled!)
  • Premium pricing
  • Aspirational ad campaigns

Why it Worked:

  • Fear of aging
  • Perception of control
  • See drugs (above)

5. Luxury Brands

Both the Gucci and the generic bag will hold your wallet with equal aplomb.  Of course, the Gucci will feel lighter, $3,000 lighter.

Tactics Used:

  • Premium pricing
  • Visibility with rich and famous
  • Upscale distribution channels

Why it Worked:


  • You’ve got the money.
  • That Rolex will fill that void.
  • Human desire to stand out (narcissism)
  • The Real Housewives of Orange County have it
  • Status and esteem
  • Advertising your success


organic_kid[1]6. Organic Food (and its retarded cousin, Whole Grain)

When Lucky Charms are “full of whole grain goodness”, it’s time for a vengeful God to strike down that little Leprechaun.

Tactics Used:

  • Certification stickers from the USDA or from Jeff’s Organic Hall of Fame.
  • Guilt-inducing commercials
  • Packaging – prideful label narratives
  • Whole Foods
  • Natural-sounding (read: unknown)  brands

Why it Worked:

  • You’ll pay a little extra – if you care to keep your family from dying.
  • Superiority complex (I’m a Mac, you’re unworthy.)
  • Vague anti-corporate sentiment

7. Infomercial Products

The Flowbee or anything straddled by Suzanne Somers

Tactics Used:

  • Late night infomercials
  • Jessica Simpson
  • Compelling demonstrations
  • Installment payments
  • “But wait, there’s more!”

Why it Worked:

  • You don’t really need to shoot your salad, but it’s late at night, and your will is weak.
  • You are lonely and that phone operator is your friend.

8. iPad

This beautiful piece of hardware dares you to figure out what it’s for.  Perhaps it can help you bridge the gap between the laptop in your living room and the desktop in the den.

Tactics Used:

  • Mystery, secrecy, then the big unveiling
  • Pristine presentation
  • Design so clean you want to touch it, then quickly wipe the smudges off. Then, touch it more…
  • The promise of future utility through apps

Why it Worked:

  • Objectification
  • Pursuit of perfection
  • Being first
  • To hold an object of desire, is to be an object of desire
  • Esteem and respect by others

9. Monster Cable

These thick, black, gold-tipped cables weigh almost as much as the kid selling them at Best Buy.  The claim is they make your equipment perform better. The reality? These things are a pure commodity and results rarely differ for cables at 1/10 the price.

Tactics Used:

  • Prominent placement at Best Buy.
  • High margins to distributors.
  • They look bigger, so they must be better.
  • Branding a pure commodity
  • Suing anyone who uses their brand or the word ‘monster’ or pictures of Godzilla.

Why it Worked:

  • Plays on people’s general ignorance and trepidation about electronics.
  • Packaging looks better than something that just says “Wire”.
  • Add-on that’s still a relatively small % of your equipment purchase.

10. 3D

James Cameron re-defined 3D visuals with Avatar. His success led every hack with a Clash of the Titans re-make to bolt-on a few 3D effects so they can charge double what a regular movie costs.

Tactics Used:

  • Huge marketing $’s
  • Sexy, agile Smurfs
  • James Cameron
  • Novelty – 3D pops up every 10 years or so.
  • Electronics companies dedicating R and D

Why it Worked

  • Short-term halo effect from Avatar (which will probably disappear once Tyler Perry or Jennifer Aniston are in 3D)
  • Perceived superiority of experience
  • Price still relatively low, compared with live events or a functional hobby

Are there lessons here for your business?  You bet.  Am I tired of writing and in desperate need of sleep?  Yes.  I’ll get to that some other time.

by Steve Faktor

visit – where smurfs and Avatars breed happily in 2D.

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