The Marketer’s Dilemma

I attended The Art Of Marketing in Toronto this past week. In his riveting presentation, Charles Duhigg (whose book I’m running out to purchase) said that the single most important and telling indicator of future success in a child’s life is… wait for it, wait for it …

Will Power

Apparently, research shows that four year old children that pass the Marshmallow Test have the greatest likelihood of success in life. The test goes something like this… “Child, here is a marshmallow. I’m going to leave the room. If you wait ten minutes to eat this marshmallow, I will give you another marshmallow.” Then you leave the room and watch.

Studies show that 30% of children have the ability to wait ten minutes and will over their lifetime experience greater success than the 70% of children who eat the marshmallow before the 10 minutes lapse. We define the ability to wait as will power.


In another part of his talk, Duhigg describes how marketers can use a reward structure to manipulate buying behaviour. In this reward process, it is particularly important that you reward behaviour immediately after the behaviour takes place. Delayed reward doesn’t have the incentive affect marketers are looking to achieve. For example, a spray of Fabreze delivers an immediate reward. For those that take pleasure in a clean home, Fabreze creates a reward for all your cleaning efforts immediately.

The Dilemma

I’m a parent and a marketer. Am I supposed to teach my child delayed gratification but manipulate the public with immediate gratification? How do I hold my head high while taking advantage of the fact that 70% of people fail the Marshmallow Test? Do I tell myself it’s ok to market to adults because they are who they are and my marketing to them can not shape them?

The fact is that I am mostly passionate about inspiring successful conversations. I believe that self awareness, social awareness and strategy make effective communications possible. I don’t like the idea of manipulating. I do, however, LOVE the idea of communicating something effectively to an audience that actually appreciates the message.

Where do you stand?

Do you want to teach life skills like will power to listening audiences or do you prefer to lever the lack of will power in marketing audiences? I have probably played both of these roles. But I’d like to think that every time I realized the choice before me, I opted for awareness rather than manipulation.

Be Aware

I’d like to be a marketer that tells you to be aware not one against whom you should beware. So all of this is simply to say, I learned something this week and I want to share it with you. BUT if ever I have an important and valuable message I believe will improve your life, I might just give you an incentive to listen to the message. If there was any reward in reading this article, I can offer you some delayed gratification: sign up to my blog for more.

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The Marketer’s Dilemma
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