You Can’t Fool Me: The Perfect Life

Read this blog and you’ll instantly be good-looking.

No, really. Go ahead, try it.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

When it’s done right, marketing pinpoints the precise points the customer is seeking and conveys those benefits in clear, compelling language.

But sometimes, companies have nothing to say. The store is nothing special, the product is eh, and the service is so-so. That’s when marketers fallback on the oldest trick in the book: aspirational marketing.


Understanding Aspirational Marketing

Aspirational marketing identifies what consumers wish their lives could be like, and then shows them an image of that life. Buy me and your life will be perfect.

Take a good look at this ad for Estee Lauder Pleasures cologne.

Anyone can see that the ad tells you nothing about the attributes of the cologne. So what does it convey? It conveys an aspiration: wear this cologne, and you’ll have all the pleasures of life – ease, relaxation, perfect weather, well-toned arms, a loving dog, peaceful children with well-groomed hair… hey, even a white picket fence!

In short, the perfect life.

But there’s more here than meets the eye. In this ad, the aspirational marketing goes one step further.

Interestingly, the man in the ad is facing away from you. Why? The dog is looking at you. The adorable child is facing you. Even the hammock is awkwardly tilted toward you. So why is the model’s head turned away?

The answer holds the secret to aspirational marketing. The man in the photo is looking away from you because he is you.

When you look at this ad (or the thousands like it), you’re looking at yourself — just better. This is you, just with better hair, better weather, and better-behaved offspring. Presumably, you’ll link this vision to with the cologne, and think (or more accurately, feel), if I just wear Pleasures, I’ll have the perfect life.


The Fallacy of Aspirational Marketing

Now, if you think about this for a moment, it’s irrational. Buying the best cologne in the world will not automatically morph a depressed, debt-ridden, childless, overweight accountant into a muscle-bound man with a picket fence and a calm, adorable child relaxing on a hammock.

But if you don’t think about it for a moment, it all looks pretty good. So the ad relies on the assumption that you won’t think. Kind of obnoxious, isn’t it?

But it gets better… or perhaps worse.


From Obnoxious to Offensive

Sometimes, companies take this to the next level. I was recently on my way to an appointment and saw a billboard so insulting I had to stop my car, get out, and snap a picture.

Yes, this billboard is advertising a funeral home and cremation service.  Do the people on this billboard seem like they have recently buried a loved one? Of course not. They look like they have just won the lottery… or perhaps as if they have just won an inheritance?

If you stop and think about it, you’ll realize how inappropriate, how objectionable, how offensive the billboard’s message truly is. But if you don’t, if you just glance at it as you drive past, you’ll subconsciously link the funeral home  with your natural aspiration to be happy and carefree.



The Tightrope of Aspirational Marketing

So is all aspirational marketing a scam?

The reality is more nuanced than that. In fact, aspirational marketing can be a powerful way to help prospective customers understand how your product or service can benefit them.

An ad that promises health, wealth, and everlasting happiness to anyone who becomes a patient of a dental office? Completely absurd. But an ad that promises a beautiful outer smile and inner self confidence to someone who takes advantage of their dental services? That’s aspirational marketing at its best.

So don’t promise something that your customer knows you can’t deliver. A smart consumer will see right through it, and lose respect for you and your brand. Instead, take the high ground and use aspirational marketing as the powerful tool that it is — a tool that can help your prospective customers understand the great impact that your service or product can have on their lives.

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This is the third in the “You Can’t Fool Me!” series, which reveals marketing sleight-of-hand that’s happening before your eyes. Find the rest of the series here.