A few centuries back — long before your great-great-grandma ever bought her first Kindle eBook (just kidding; didn’t happen) — the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a treatise called The Social Contract. The book’s basic argument ran something like this: Kings, emperors, etc., dukes, etc. — the powerful folks of the 1700s — shouldn’t get to dictate the rules of society without the express consent of the people they governed. Rousseau’s book helped accomplish a whole bunch of things in its time (see the American and French Revolutions). But don’t worry. This isn’t a history quiz. This is about cutting-edge marketing. It’s about how the idea of a “social contract” — and the consequences of violating it — continue to ripple throughout our own data-driven age.
In case you missed it, the cat is out of the in-flight container: Gen Zers love to travel locally, nationally and globally. A recent global survey of students by UNiDAYS and Ad Age Studio 30 bears this out: an overwhelming 99 percent of Gen Zers have the travel bug in their veins. And with approximately $143 billion in personal income at their disposal, they’re already in a position to circumnavigate the globe millions of times over.
Once upon a time, at the height of the Mad Men era, an American marketing professor and author named Jerome McCarthy was hard at work and introduced the concept of “The Four Ps” of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion). Since the years of shift dresses, mid-century modern appointed Madison Avenue offices that permitted smoking, the 4 Ps have become a ubiquitous and timeless staple of marketing that has never gone out of style.
Ecommerce tends to take its triumphs a little for granted these days. There’s talk of how the “Amazon Effect” has upended the traditional “offline” customer journey, rendering it obsolete. There’s the implicit notion that a customer will no longer just mosey over to their favorite store, pick out a shirt they like, try it on in the fitting room, wait in line to buy it and then purchase it from an actual, live salesperson — certainly not in a world with 100 million loyal Amazon Prime members and counting.
Hey, kids! For today’s #marketing lesson, I’m going to teach you a new dirty word. Feel free to exclaim it at the dinner table, sing it in the shower or shout it from the rooftops so all your neighbors can hear. But seriously, don’t use it online. Especially if you happen to be a member of the e-commerce team of your marketing department. Because this particular double-four-letter word is not the word any brand marketer ever wants to hear: “DISCOUNT”.
Gen Zers depend on social media to connect with brands. That’s just a fact of life. The majority of North American tweens, high schoolers and collegiates (one recent study shows it to be 80 percent) believe social media influences what they buy online or in-store.
There was a time — not so long ago — when Enron executives were collectively known by their clients as “the smartest guys in the room.” There was a more-recent time when Volkswagen held an unimpeachable track record for emissions safety — until the so-called Dieselgate scandal came to light, sending its stock prices plummeting by 40 percent. There was even a time, at least before the release of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” when Jay-Z thought his street cred and talents as a rapper would keep his personal brand untouchable.
For millions of Gen Zers studying at college, a well-priced offer means the difference between affording - or not affording - a new computer, nice clothing, memorable nights out on the town, or a plane ticket home. Students love to save on what they buy - and marketers know it. A quick journey to any corner of the internet will reveal a near-endless supply of coupons, discounts and one-time sales events geared specifically towards students.
As Seth Godin once put it, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” But with the rapid rise of online coupon and discount affiliate marketing programs to drive ecommerce, the conversation around “what it means” to be a brand is shifting - and not necessarily for the better.