Marketers could teach evolutionary psychologists a thing or two. That’s the inference of Geoffrey Miller’s latest book, Spent: Sex, Evolution and the Secrets of Consumerism. Well, at least according to Dylan Evans’ pithy review in Saturday’s edition of The Guardian.
It’s Miller’s, probably rather obvious, contention that marketers develop an intuitive understanding of consumer behaviour through their experience of selling real products. It’s this that could help evolutionary psychologists refine their theories of evolved preferences and sexual signaling. But hey, wait a minute Mr Marketer, that Nobel Prize isn’t quite in the bag yet! Evans also points to Miller’s argument that marketers tend to use overly simplistic models of human nature. Ones that remain uninformed by the past 20 years of research by evolutionary psychologists and behavioural ecologists. Indeed, Miller himself talks about marketers who, “…still believe that premium products are bought to display wealth, status and taste, and they miss the deeper mental traits such as kindness, intelligence and creativity”.
So what’s the conclusion? Well, I guess that it’s a case of ‘could do better’. Miller gives what one might consider to be a salutary wake-up call. The truth is there’s a wealth of deep data at our disposal – especially from the wonderful world of digital. It’s real data too – not stuff conjured up in an evolutionary psychologist’s ivory tower. However, this needs to be combined with a much deeper understanding of what makes people tick. It’s simply not good enough to rely on the same outmoded stereotypical definitions of who our consumers are and what they are doing. As a discipline, marketing needs to draw upon much wider learnings if it is to discover humanity’s secret selling points!