Actions speak louder than words.

Cognitive dissonance.

Even the term itself sounds like pretentious twaddle.

Even more so when you realise it’s the perfect term for the continuous virtue signalling in the game we call ‘marketing’.

For it’s not the talk of change that’s the problem, it’s the realities of following through with our actions.

What is cognitive dissonance?

A quick search and you will come across the following description:

“Cognitive dissonance is a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other. The clashing cognitions may include ideas, beliefs, or the knowledge that one has behaved in a certain way” (Psychology Today)

“…clashing cognitions…”, the Achilles’ heel of the marketer. For all the ‘marketing can change the world’ tropes out there, it’s the realities of what we do, we want to ignore.

‘Profit’ isn’t a dirty word. How you choose to do it, can be.  Depending on your ethics and individual morality.

Cognitive dissonance in marketing

That’s the problem.

We’re socially aware creatures. Our jobs make it necessary. Social media may provide a community, or a tortured audience waiting for the next pompous newsletter to drop, it’s also made us more connected.

Global news is shared and absorbed in real-time. We see the repercussions of decisions, statements, and inaction, instantly.

We’ve become aware of the global humanitarian challenges that are facing us, making the daily grind seem trivial, and our principles tested.

Some will blame this as a millennial problem. The idealistic attitudes of a generation.

Yet, we forget about the societal angst and drive for change during the Mods vs Rockers era, the Hippie movement, or the aspirational desires of the Yuppies…

This isn’t generational, it’s life stage-tional… (just go with it).

Where people find their feet, our way in the world. Technology enables us to document the constant replays of the inter-generational angst and shared sentiments.

And that’s the other challenge to consider.

The hashtag bandwagoning. The boycotting of brands. The calling out of injustices.

Yes, it needs to be said, but is it authentic rage or algorithmic rage?

We’ve entered a new game – ‘Likémon’ – gotta count ‘em all.

A surreal mix of chasing likes and virtual peer pressure to reaffirm ‘our opinions’ and take our rightful place in our virtual tribe. Or forever be cast into the algorithmical abyss. Our social clout diminished, never to be seen again.

Any student will tell you of the biases during market research – it’s textbook.

People tell you what they think you want to hear. Change their opinion based on groupthink. Well-known, documented, phenomena, creating vulnerability in research methods (that’s why ethnography is more revealing (Malhotra et al, 2012)). 

Because in a world where words are held in higher regard than actions, those who take the time to shout the loudest, are the ones who are often believed.

It’s easy for algorithmic distortion to warp our perspectives. The world is not being seen from reality, it’s being viewed by virtual rose-tinted glasses we’ve chosen to wear.

No more so than that of the purpose of marketing. We’re empowered, and united, by the great thought-repeaters, that marketing can change the world. Bring calm to chaos. Create a better future.

Yet, the cold, harsh reality is that our primary aim is to sell. That’s it.

Marketing is a toolbox. A big one. A core business function, with a sandbox larger than any self-certified guru, can comprehend. 

Simply put, that’s the game we’re in.

Yet, we start to hate the players when we see how individuals and companies behave when the world is in crisis.

Some people don’t have the moral fibre to do what’s right.

Unfortunately, the game we play facilitates that type of player. Whether we like it or not. As Gecko once said, “Greed is good.”

When numbers talk. People are silenced.

Truth is, cognitive dissonance is a form of self-awareness. It’s our conscience. It demonstrates that our individual morality and ethics are still in existence (Britannica [Online] 2022). We recognise the repercussions. Our impact.

That voice shouts louder. It clashes with our commercial prowess. It still doesn’t excuse the hypocrisy.

Practise what you preach


“If you know what you’re doing is wrong, then why are you doing it?”

A question I struggled with as a mischievous kid, and a question that can lead to an identity crisis as an adult in marketing.  

Because the why, isn’t always for the benefit of the masses, but to those who share the same signatory on the payslips as us. Who’s to say that’s not a justifiable responsibility? After all, colleagues need food and shelter.

But, if we want to do more, if we want to benefit the masses, the common good, then ‘purpose’ and ‘being authentic’, shouldn’t be drivel to appease the followers.

It should be grounded in reality. Systematically designed. Operationally engineered to make a genuine difference. Otherwise, it should be banned.

We can’t bang on about people wanting their brands to stand for something when people are resorting to shoplifting to put food on the table.

We can’t preach about sustainability but actively pursue cheap shit with 24-hour delivery and the inability to repair it.

We have no leg to stand on when we’ll rave about caring for our workers and our green policy, but partner with organisations who still think values are for spreadsheets.    

If you say your principles matter, then they should be at your core. Your strategy. Influencing not just brand and marcomms, but EVERYTHING, that you do. Even if you can legally ‘get away’ with it.

Put your money where your mouth is. That’s the real catalyst for change.

Ethics requires accountability.

If you preach it. Do it.  

It’ll ease the discomfort.

Share your thoughts

What do you think drives the cognitive dissonance in marketing? Let me know in the comments below, tweet me @CJPanteny, or get in touch.

And if you liked this blog, don’t forget to share it on your socials and bask in its ranty goodness.

See you next time.

References

Britannica (2022) Conscience – Psychology [Online] 22.05.13 Available from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/conscience [Accessed 20 May 2020] Website updated May 2022

iNews (2022) Officers should use discretion over shoplifting amid cost of living crisis, police watchdog says [Online] 19.05.22 Available from: https://inews.co.uk/news/officers-should-use-discretion-over-shoplifting-amid-cost-of-living-crisis-police-watchdog-says-1638334 [Accessed 20 May 2022] Website updated May 2022

Mallhota, N.K, Birks, D.F. and Wills P,. (2012) Marketing Research, An Applied Approach, Financial
Times, Prentice Hall

Psychology Today (2022) Cognitive dissonance [Online] Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/cognitive-dissonance [Accessed 20 May 2020] Website updated May 2022

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