Did Maslow wear Mambo?

Written by

Andrew Millar


February 24, 2007

I read a great line the other day.

It was one of those lines that draws together all of the things that were swirling around in my head. I was thinking about why Nike became so successful. I kept asking, ‘Yes, but why Nike?’ Advertising is good but I fear, not that good.

The quote simply said…

‘If you want to be a leader, simply find a parade and walk in front of it.’

A great marketing truth. The only trouble is it is so American. We tend not to have many parades here.

But we do have waves.

So, Nike? Perhaps we can explain its success like this.

There’s Nike paddling around on a surfboard. They’re making good sporting footwear along with others who were making good sporting footwear. Suddenly along comes a wave. And with a few carefully timed powerful strokes Nike is up and riding the ‘Jogging Wave’. And then the rest is history.

So… if you want to be a leader, find a wave and ride it.

The trick for marketing people is predicting what wave is a coming and exactly when to start paddling.

Abraham Maslow might be able to help.

Maslow was a psychologist who studied ‘well people’. He noticed that our needs were regularly ordered. The first things we take care of are the basic necessities. This first level of needs he labeled as ‘physiological basic needs’ for body function; water, air, shelter, basic food and such.

When those needs were taken care of, people could move to take care of safety needs. Safety needs consist of things like a safe environment and protection – territory Volvo held for so long.

The next level of needs is those dealing with love and belonging. These are things like friends, a life mate and children.

But, if you lose your safety or your basic body needs, you may not worry about your family and friends until those needs are taken care of. If you have nowhere to live, or nothing to eat you tend to forget about Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day takes a low priority.

If your needs for love and belonging are met, you then address your needs for esteem. There are two levels of esteem needs. The lower of the levels relates to elements like fame, respect, and glory. The higher levels deal with confidence, competence, and achievement. The lower level is generally considered poor. It is dependent upon other people, or someone who needs reassurance because of lower esteem and in some cynical way, presents a strong opportunity for a brand to step in and fill that void. People with low esteem need respect from others. People with high esteem seek fame or glory, which again are dependent on others.

The final level is different than the previous four. It involves the desire to ‘be all that you can be’. This is the level where people try to maximize their potential. It is called the self-actualization level and only accounts for around 2% of the population.

So how can you use all this to predict ‘social waves’?

We can do it everyday by reading the papers and listening to the news. Events like 9/11, the Bali Bombings, the War in Iraq, even elections all have an effect on everyone’s psychology.

Those events caused people to reassess their values at a personal level. It can knock people down a level or two on Maslow’s scale. It can turn their needs to thoughts of safety. In a marketing sense you would not be surprised to see an increase in demand for everything from personal security to firearm sales – especially if it was an election that bothered you.

Because of where the need for safety is placed in the hierarchy, there was no real change in the demand for food and water – or clean air for that matter.

By keeping track of current events and public sentiment, you can predict to a great extent what people are going to be motivated to spending their time and money on.

The reverse is also true. When things are going very well, they will be motivated to spend more money – sometimes huge amounts – on things higher up the pyramid.

So, here is the rule. Market to the layer of the hierarchy where people feel their need is best being meet. When things are going well, ride the wave of self-satisfaction.

I believe one of the most vulnerable industries could be housing. Motivations to move and buy could change with the flick of a newspaper page.

But it does not need to be monumental, earth-altering news either. My brother who lived in Geelong for many years, said consumer self esteem was sky-high on Mondays and Tuesdays after an AFL win and crashed to lower levels with a loss. Imagine what Maslow ‘wave’ you could employ if they won a flag.

So one day, when you discover a picture of Abraham Maslow, check for tan, boardies and salt in his hair.

Andrew Millar
Creative Director/Partner