Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fortified with Tolstoy!

That's true! I have enriched my blog with a direct quote from Tolstoy's War and Peace! So now you won't just learn about advertising issues by reading this post, you'll become expert in Russian literature as well!

What, you say that you find my claims hard to believe? Why, just this morning I used shaving cream enriched with shea butter, and my skin already feels rejuvenated! (Yeah, I know it's girlie; my wife buys it.) Then I had some juice containing extract of the latest superfood, acai berries, and I can feel the antioxidants coursing through my veins!

Yeah, it's a load of crap. But people keep buying into the latest trend in botanicals, and manufacturers keep adding trace elements of it to their products. It's all a big charade, but regulators have had a hard time enforcing advertising claims about the efficacy of these ingredients.

So, why does the marketing work? The answer lies in what social scientists call "essentialist thinking". In layman's terms, this is the belief that there is an irreducible "essence" in things that makes them what they are, beyond being the sum of their parts. It's the principle behind homeopathic medicine, which "is generally defined as a system of medical treatment based on the use of minute quantities of remedies that in larger doses produce effects similar to those of the disease being treated". In products, it's the idea that any amount of a "magic" botanical substance can have a significant effect.

To a scientists, "natural" versus "artificial" is a meaningless distinction; everything in the world can be expressed as a sum of its basic components, no matter where they come from.

But most of us are not scientists. We're homeopaths. We want the latest miracle cure from Mother Nature, even if it's a total scam. After all, it couldn't hurt to try, could it?

I'm an adman, and I understand the need for consumer products to innovate. I just wish consumers themselves would take a dose of skepticism with their daily ration of hype.

But I've ranted enough for today. How's your Tolstoy education doing? I hope you benefited from the 0.5% War and Peace content I added to today's blog. It's from Chapter 19. It's my first line.


  1. are you sure about your tolstoy quote?

    nothing in your post seems to line up with line 1 of chapter 19 in any of the 15 books or two epilogues.

    this student requests guidance.

  2. Sorry, I mean MY first line. It's buried in this page: http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/war_and_peace/19/

    Thanks, Eric. I'll fix it in the blog.