Thursday, August 21, 2008

Culture and Personality

A Canadian anthropologist, Anthony F.C. Wallace published a great book in 1963, Culture and Personality. He was largely forgotten and is now obscure, but he developed a theory of culture change that anticipated the very problems encountered by organization theory and marketing. He used historical studies of large social groups to warrant his conclusions but one of his application areas was in advertising. The process is the same in advertising as it is with a culture, a donor group introduce a change or innovation to a recipient group. Culture change.

He proposed a solution that is the heart of modern integrated marketing communications, to establish connections to publics for building long-term relationships. He suggested a variety of segmentation strategies based on modal personalities in these publics (we might say personas). A communication will have different levels of influence and effect on different modal personality types. He developed an influence scale as a guideline to improve the likelihood of group acceptance of the new ideas.

His criticism of advertising then (50’s and 60’s) was that it was too severe in its attempts to influence independent consumers, pegging it at the threat level on his scale. He notes (p 135)

“[Threat] is the device frequently used by commercial advertisers attempting to induce a target group to accept its product, non-buyers are threatened with loss of friends, job, health and sexual satisfaction if they fail to buy …”

His recommendation: move several steps down the ladder to peaceful negotiation. Here a mutually beneficial relationship is developed where the interests and motives of both parties “are well satisfied on a long-term basis.”

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