Let’s try an experiment: stop reading, open your Instagram feed, and write down the topics of the first ten sponsored posts. I bet I can predict what you saw—not because I’m hiding behind your houseplant, but because most the most effective marketers (even the irritating ones on Instagram) understand and exploit powerful forces by speaking to fundamental human wants and needs. Here goes: weight loss, supplements, exercise programs or tools, productivity software and journals, investment options, cryptocurrencies, stock market insights, get-rich-quick schemes, and clothing with thin, abnormally attractive people. You probably also scrolled past Joe Rogan and Russell Brand, as it is now impossible to avoid them.
Perhaps it’s sad that our ads are so predictable, especially since so many of them require looking in the mirror (or our portfolio) and hating what we see. But understanding how these “sponsored posts” (read: shameless advertisements) work can help teach you the secret to demand generation. Keep reading.
Do You Like What You See?
Much of advertising, which runs on demand generation, exploits dissatisfaction with our physical appearance. The desire to look better is so deeply felt that advertisers need only provide you with a picture of a pretty person close to your age, a contrived explanation for why you don't look like them, and a simplistic “action plan” that starts by clicking a link and handing over your credit card.
The weight loss, exercise, and diet programs all speak to your desire to improve the way you look. Just so you know, Maxwell Maltz, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon and the author of Psycho-Cybernetics, recognized that his patients didn't really like their image any more after their surgery than they did before. Their feelings about themselves didn't change. Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements, took it a step further: “When you look in the mirror and hate what you see, you need addictions to survive.”
The universal nature of wishing you looked better doesn't require demand generation. It mostly only requires an offer and explanation.
Who Wants to Live Forever?
Mortal humans have always sought to prolong their lives, with some even trying to achieve immortality. While I understand the desire, so far, nature has not coughed up a Fountain of Youth or some other alchemy that would transform you into a thin, attractive, immortal, like Dorian Gray or one the vampires in those horrible fan fiction movies.
In a 2013 interview, Ray Kurzweil predicted that in 15 years, medical technology would be able to add more than a year to life expectancy for each year that passes, allowing us to “outrun our own deaths." Having met Ray at the Singularity Summit in 2007, I also know that there are people working on the problem of removing our minds to the cloud, where they will ostensibly live forever. We don't know much about our consciousness, but my friend Ken Wilber suggests that is innate to our body and our brains.
I take a lot of supplements, but only the ones that my doctor prescribed after taking eight vials of my blood. My DNA makes it difficult for me to get vitamin D from the sun. It also makes me prone to inflammation, which means taking vitamin B12 shots along with a few other supplements. Realistically, none of it will turn me into Methuselah. Still, wanting to live longer is an easy desire to exploit. The newest, latest, and greatest “discovery” for a longer healthier life will be replaced by something even better, probably in the next two weeks.
Warren Buffett's Selfies
The increasing popularity of showing off one’s excessive wealth—selfies in sports cars, on private jumbo jets, and of course in gigantic houses—helps people meet two other deep needs. The first is the need to be important, using money as a measure of not just success but personal worth. The second is to sell the dream that you can, should, and need to be rich: if a schlub like me can do this, the streamers insist, so can you.
An endless parade of offerings vow to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams—pay no attention to the rented house, the borrowed cars, and the one-time investment in a charter flight to give the impression of wealth. The planes you see in the Instagram feed cost tens of millions of dollars.
Why is it that you never see Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger post selfies from their private jets? They are not interested in making you believe that they are rich and successful, let alone that you need a private jet to prove your own wealth. In fact, both of these gentlemen would tell you to invest in an index fund or buy stock in great companies that you can hold for a long time. Seventy percent of Buffett's portfolio consists of four stocks: Apple, American Express, Coca-Cola, and Bank of America.
Get rich quick schemes gets the seller rich quicker at the expense of their buyers. The pharaohs were buried with their wealth, and so far it hasn’t helped them much.
There are very few productivity hacks than I have not explored. Everyone wants more time, and some of them buy programs that promise more time— even knowing it's impossible. Let me save you some time by telling you exactly how to get more done: prioritize what's important to you, then do that.
The Secret to Demand Generation
Part of demand generation is to speak to the deep needs that humans spend money trying to address. But that’s only half the secret. Here’s the real trick: convince your victims that it’s not their fault that they aren’t already prettier, thinner, richer, and more productive. Then tell them that the only reason their past efforts failed is because they hadn’t bought your product yet. Gets them every time.