How Advertisers Are Selling the American Dream [Video]

Bottle of luxury fragrance perfume for men on flat mirror plates and black background.Macro. Latin Business Today

An insightful approach to today’s sales and marketing tactics

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part article.

The American Dream is alive and well, but it is not necessarily the same thing today as it was for our parents and grandparents.

According to a surveyreleased in February 2019 by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), 80% of Americans either believe their family is living the American Dream or they’re on their way to achieving it. What’s changed is not our belief in the American Dream’s existence, but how we define it. Traditionally, to be living the American Dream meant owning a house, raising a family, climbing social ranks and achieving financial success. Look no further than advertising in the 50s and 60s as a testament to this. Now imagine those ads running today. It wouldn’t fly.

Appeal and access

Sales and advertising are primarily about appeal and access.

They aim to appeal to our hopes and dreams, and they simultaneously shape them. Advertisements make us think about who we could be, what we could own and who we could become. As a business, it is your job to sell hopes and dreams—for a price.

Remember Gatorade’s hit ad in the 90s with its catchy hook, “Be Like Mike”? This worked so well not only because it would get stuck in our heads for hours, but also because of the direct association it made between drinking Gatorade and being like Michael Jordan. The idea appealed to athletes of all ages: who better to emulate than basketball’s greatest player?  How do you become like him?

It’s easy. “Be like Mike. Drink Gatorade”—aka, be like Mike. Buy Gatorade.

90s approaches to sales and advertising

Naturally, since the 90s our approaches to sales and advertising have evolved.

This is largely because it is nearly impossible to spend a day completely isolated from advertising and marketing. We have become so accustomed to being marketed to, both in person and online, that most advertisements blend seamlessly into the fabric of everyday life. They’re ubiquitous, and the best advertisements often don’t look like advertisements at all.

What hasn’t changed is our basic desire to emulate and access the lifestyles of the rich, famous and successful. “Be Like Mike” may be a bit on the nose today insofar as advertisements go. However, the basic concept hasn’t changed. It’s just that consumers today would be keener to see MJ sipping Gatorade on their Instagram feeds than they would on TV.

The former would be a wiser investment for your business as well.

A modern example

For a modern example, look at Kylie Lip Kits. By attaching herself so closely to her brand, Kylie Jenner deftly communicates that buying her products will allow consumers to become more like her. With little marketing aside from Instagram posts, the 2015 online debut of Kylie Lip Kits was a smash success. They were entirely sold out within one minute. After 18 months the company had generated over $420 million in revenue, rebranded to Kylie Cosmetics and greatly expanded its product line.

What was first a scandal over lip injections is now nearly a billion dollar empire. The moral of the story: even if they won’t admit it, people really want to “Be Like Kylie”. In order to successfully market your business, you must quickly convince your audience why your products or services will make their lives better and serve to further their individual hopes and dreams, regardless of what they are. In America, we often define our “best lives” in terms of the American Dream.

As society changes, our aspirations change as well. That’s why it is critical to understand how the American Dream has evolved and what elements are considered essential today.

The same AEI survey mentioned above asked participants to consider eight factors and determine whether they were:

1. Essential to achieving the American Dream

2. Important but not essential

3. Unimportant

Among these factors, it was determined by 85% of responders that the most essential ingredient constituting the American Dream was “to have the freedom of choice in how to live one’s life”. This differs greatly from older conceptions, which relied heavily on conformity. People no longer strive to live in little boxes made of ticky-tacky that all look the same. The American Dream doesn’t frown upon going against the grain. It embraces it. We no longer want to live a predetermined, cookie-cutter life—we want to live authentically. It’s no longer about following rules, but the freedom to make them up as you go. As it goes: some things have changed, and some have stayed the same.

The second most popular factor making up the American Dream was “to have a good family life,” according to 83% of the AEI responders. The fourth most essential was “to own a home” (59%), and the fifth was “to have a successful career” (49%). All three of these aspects have remained important to the American Dream, even if they are no longer at the top of the list.

Money is still important too, but more covertly so. Coming in third place, 71% of responders classified “to retire comfortably,” as essential to the dream. What comes as a surprise is that “to become wealthy” is categorized as the least important factor of all, deemed essential by only 16% of responders.

It’s hard to reconcile how one can hope to retire comfortably without accumulating wealth. Another thing to consider is that, whether it’s fair or not, wealth generally enables more freedom of choice in one’s life. So interpreting the lacking emphasis on wealth’s importance to the American Dream today is somewhat puzzling.

In part two we’ll address, How will your business help Americans get closer to achieving their American Dream?

This two-part series has been co-authored by Amber Flaskey, 

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