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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Monday, September 19

curse of the pyramid

Brian Millar is an old friend, measuring "old" in Internet time, but it still counts. Counts even more, perhaps. I wrote about him in Gonzo Marketing, which of course you've read. Right? If not, it's now one of those Search Inside™ books, so you can click that link and plug in "Brian Millar" to see what I said about him back then. And here's his current bio...
Brian is creative director of He was previously an advertising copywriter and creative director at agencies including Saatchi and Saatchi and Ogilvy, winning many awards around the world. He currently works with clients including Reuters and The British Museum, is an associate of Demos and has contributed to Pick Me, the latest AdAge book of advice for creatives.
I strongly encourage you to click on the picture, above, if only to appreciate more fully the larger version on the brandtacticians home page. If I didn't know Brian's head as well as you will after reading the following piece, I might miss the ROTFL irony. Don't you make that mistake, Gentle Reader. Who else but a twisted ad creative would leverage such a fine example of Early Bond IT softcore. I mean, check the guy's devilish sideburns. Check the fetching Bird. Check the calming sense of order conveyed by the whole masterful composition. Oh yeah, you're in good hands now!

Here's a bit of what I did write in Gonzo. It seems somehow apropos here...

[Millar] imagines "untranarrow ultramodern microchannels" offering endless loops of sampled video -- people swearing for hours on end, for instance, or interminably strung-together car chase scenes. "It's a meaner, more lizardly attitude to our treasured media archives," Millar admits, tongue firmly in cheek. But then, nothing's sacred. Brian tells me that myrtle [a former website] is also offering "Turin Shroud duvet covers. The extraordinary deposition image, only shown in public once per generation, preserved on your comforter forever. A gift to treasure. Yes. What have Turin Shroud duvet covers got to do with running an ad agency? Frankly, nothing as far as I can work out. But I bet they'd look nifty."
It goes on.

So imagine my joy when I got the following article in email last week, accompanied by this:

I have long wondered how so many advertisers took Maslow at face value, after all, he was a fairly dodgy old hippie.

Then it struck me: advertising planners usually run out of ad agencies to live in tree houses or start improv theatre groups. It’s because they take Maslow to be an actual plan for life. But to be taken in by Maslow, you have to believe that owning a house with a pool in Topanga Canyon makes you more spiritual than a caveman or a villager in Papua New Guinea. Which strikes me as wrong, not to say rather smug.

Needless to say I wrote an article about it.

And here, without further ado -- having already ado'd quite enough here -- is Brian Millar's piece on Maslow...

Crossing the Line: the curse of the pyramid

Are we so obsessed by the material world of hot bods, hot cars and hot interiors that we're neglecting our spiritual lives?

Advertising agency planners think not. In my experience as a creative, few planner presentations are complete without some reference to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a theory put forward by Abraham Maslow, a behavioural psychologist, in 1943.

The central thrust of Maslow's argument is that some needs take priorities over others. The need to survive takes precedence over the need to reproduce, so when somebody tries to strangle us, we attempt to escape rather than try to snog them.

Maslow drew human needs as a pyramid (Exhibit 1). At the base are survival needs: food, water, shelter and warmth. Next comes safety and security. The level above this is the need to belong, to become Man With Nice Cave and Loving Family.

Maslow organised the categories of fundamental human need into a pyramid structure. An inferior need (at the bottom of the pyramid) must be satisfied before a superior need (at the top of the pyramid) appears.
The second highest level is concerned with our need for esteem: the respect and admiration of others. And at the very apex of Maslow's pyramid is the level that planners love: the need for self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is the happiness that comes from fulfilling your potential and realising your talents. People who self-actualise lead rich and examined lives. They seek knowledge and aesthetic experiences for themselves and help others to achieve self-fulfilment.

I have never heard anybody question the fundamental basis of Maslow's argument (at least, in its ad agency 'Intellectual Lite' form; I've never read any Maslow, but then probably neither have you). Maslow's hierarchy assumes that you have to have fulfilled the criteria of each need before you can move on to the next.

It is like a frequent-flyer scheme for life: 'I'm sorry, madam. This is the lounge for esteemed people. The lounge for people who've only found acceptance is down the hall. If you see the people trying to make fire, you've gone too far.' It's a vision of society ratcheting itself up need by need towards Nirvana. It's neat, and like all neat ways of measuring human behaviour, it's attractive to marketers.

And like all neat ways of measuring human behaviour, it just doesn't work.

In agency meetings everybody nods when you invoke Maslow. Of course, people who have Amex black cards, S class Mercedes and great job titles are actually yearning for spiritual fulfilment. So it follows that marketing should minister to those needs, as these people have vast amounts of money and a great hole in their souls.

In my experience, people who have comfort, safety and self-esteem mainly want more of the same, but better. Platinum card holders don't want to find themselves. They want a Plutonium card. If you drive a Mercedes kitted out in hand-tooled hide, you really just hanker after a car with more leather. Leather windows, maybe. Or a leather engine.

If Maslow is to be believed, people only start self-actualising when they have a surfeit of everything. This would be news to ice-age cave painters, creating great art on the brink of extinction, not to mention Diogenes, Vincent Van Gogh and Jesus.

Maslow can lead one to believe that poor people lead un-actualised, spiritually impoverished lives and will only respond to utilitarian offers at the lowest possible price. This is a dangerous and patronising assumption, but one that's all too evident in the 'come on down' approach of nearly all communication to people in lower socioeconomic brackets.

And there is a final danger in this kind of thinking. Have you noticed how few planners aged over 40 there are in agencies? Or that so many planners give up their rewarding jobs to become hippies in Poona, Marrakech or St Luke's? It's because there is one socioeconomic group that seems to conform rigidly to Maslow's laws: the people who keep telling us about them in PowerPoint presentations.

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