The Foundations of a New Marketing Paradigm IV

This is the third of a series of articles written by our colleague David B. Wolfe noted author and older consumer expert.


by David B. Wolfe

Advertising Great Bill Bernbach: Human Nature Hasn’t Changed for a Million Years

Each person’s life is a story, unique in some respects, but to a remarkable degree – more than we like to admit – like every one else’s story. But we spend so much time trying to convince others (and often ourselves) of our uniqueness that we don’t give much thought to how alike others we are.

There is a big payoff for the marketer who would invest time in getting deeper insight into how we are all pretty much alike. The truth is marketers generally know less about customers than they should, given the $6 billion a year companies spend trying to figure out what makes them tick.

Consider this: Thanks to huge advancements information technology, marketers have more customer information available to them by an order of magnitude than their counterparts of a generation ago had. Yet, by various ways of reckoning, marketing has become less effective and more costly.

Bill Bernbach, one of advertising’s greatest minds, would understand the problem:

“Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t even change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man – what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.”

Bernbach was not a psychologist, but had an uncanny intuitive grasp of human behavior. While most of us may lack the intuitive competence of Bernbach, we can get to know our customers better by acquiring a deeper understanding of unchanging man.

We cannot get that understanding through traditional customer research. We must look into people’s life stories as they unfold over the course of a lifetime to get to where he was in knowing the intricacies of the human mind.

Our life stories share much in common with the life stories of others because as we pass through each season of life our deepest needs are quite alike those of others passing through the same season.

Our life stories unfold across four clearly distinct seasons. A person’s core needs –needs that must be satisfied for healthy personality development to occur – are determined by the season of life through which he is currently moving. Each season has a primary developmental objective. Meeting this objective depends on how well the needs it gives rise to are met. By -season of life, the primary developmental objectives are:

Spring (the first two decades of life): acquiring the basic intellectual, emotional and social skills needed to enter adulthood with reasonable prospects for success.

Summer (the second two decades of life): developing into a socially and vocationally successful personality.

Fall (the third two decades of life): determining the ultimate meaning of one’s life as part of more fully developing the inner self.

Winter (the remaining years): achieving a transcendent sense of oneness with all that deepens life satisfaction and increases resilience in the face of adverse challenges the future may hold.

No more than an infant determines what her core needs are, an adult has no voice in shaping his core needs. Core needs are determined by instructions in human DNA for personality development that have been handed down over thousands of generations.

Of course, people do vary in how they go about satisfying their core needs. How3ever, though style of satisfying core needs may change over time, the core needs themselves never change. But even then, some of the means for satisfying core needs may never change.

Take, for example, the core need of the young to project a distinct identity into the outside world. This need motivates behavior in pursuit of enhancing prospects for social and vocational success. Since long before recorded time young people have generally relied on body adornment to help satisfy that core need. Tattoos have been a popular way to gain get social recognition across the ages. And though tattoos sported by today’s young are quite different from those of aboriginal youth a thousand generations ago, tattoos as a means of getting attention have been part of the human drama as far aback as we can see.

Next: Primary life focus underlies the satisfaction of each season’s primary developmental objective.

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