from Marketing Memetics, by Michael Taylor
Conventional thinking is that great products sell themselves, and advertising is “the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” The truth is, your product doesn’t exist if nobody hears of it. To spread through the population unaided, a product has to be so memorable and shareable that it maintains a viral coefficient above 1 (each person convinces at least one other). Almost no products meet that minimum barrier, because brain space is limited, and we don’t care that much about most purchases. Spending more than a millisecond comparing dish soap brands, is likely a waste of time – choose the one you recognize and move on. Advertising helps us make decisions quickly, by broadcasting product information in a way that’s costly, and therefore difficult to fake.
This isn’t a man-made technique – as Sutherland says, “A flower is a weed with an advertising budget”. Much like a Peacock can’t grow illustrious feathers if it’s sick (making it a reliable signal of a good mate), companies can’t afford to spend a lot on advertising if their products aren’t good enough. Like any complex system, advertising is prone to abuse, but it works at scale: nobody spends $5 million on a Superbowl ad unless they plan to be around for a while – ‘the medium is the message’. Intangible value is treated as inferior, but it’s an inseparable part of the product. Even Michelin starred restaurants clean the floors, throw out rotting food, and decorate the tables, regardless of how good the actual product is.