Will The Cat Drool?

Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, A currently popular marketing book, makes much of the differences between cats and dogs. Not the obvious differences. Dogs are a metaphor for customers of yore. Cats are the new non-compliant customer. The authors go on to make a specious case that Pavlov, the Russian physiologist of salivation dog fame, is no longer relevant.

Essentially Pavlov showed that merely the (almost) simultaneous pairing of two stimuli results in the learning that these are associated. The classic case is pairing of a sound with food, such that hearing the sound produces salivation. The effect is powerful and ubiquitous and applies to you and me as well as dogs and cats.

So what? You might well ask. Pavlov’s model was and is the prevailing one for marketing communications. A product may have a complex, systematic and rational value proposition, yet most attempts to enlist customers are Pavlovian.

Marketers try to induce interest or favorable perception by pairing the product or brand with something else the prospect perceives favorably or associate its absence with something unfavorable. Favorable stimuli include sex, safety, children, money, admiration, food, affiliation, and domination.

This attempted association or “conditioning” to use Pavlov’s term, is easy to spot in broadcast advertising, but is common in print, direct mail, email and web sites as well as tactics derived from these such as viral marketing campaigns.

Consider this next time you watch the Super Bowl, read a direct mail piece from Dell computer or brows banner ads for on-line gaming.