The Psychology of Marketing

I teach my students at Berkeley and Stanford that the foundation of marketing is psychology. Marketing is manipulating people to do what we want, so to get people to do what we want, we have to understand how they think, what they feel, and why.

I also teach that the foundation of psychology, what motivates all of us to do whatever we do, is self-interest. I explain that even soon-to-be saints, like Mother Teresa, who spent her life feeding the poor, caring for the sick, did so out of self-interest. Mother Teresa was not altruistic. There is no such thing as Altruism. It is a religious construct to motivate good deeds, to get people out of our own heads, even for a moment, to consider others.

Many students, especially students of religion, have a problem with this lecture. And, no doubt, many reading this blog are bridling right now. “Of course Altruism is REAL. It’s what we strive for, our highest attainment—to give selflessly, because we are fundamentally caring, loving beings.”

Not so much. We are fundamentally self-serving.

And this is NOT a judgement call. This is a fact of human nature. What can be judged is what we DO with this fact of our nature.

I teach self-interest religiously with every Marketing lecture I give. As Mother Teresa spread the word of Christ around the world with every sick child she fed, she was fulfilling her function as a nun. And her brain rewarded her efforts with Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin— ‘happiness’ hormones that made her feel good. In the face of that kind of poverty, I’d be crying daily. I don’t do what she did because it would not make me feel good in any way. I’d be profoundly sad, every day, knowing Christ will never save these children. People are going to have to do that.

We ALL act in self-interest. We scoff at Chevron fracking as the height of corruption, yet we blithely ignore our roles in global warming by driving SUVs we don’t need, or leaving lights or electronics on all the time because we’re too distracted to turn them off. Or we drive while on our cellphones, and cause over 1.5 MILLION accidents annually, and KILL, murder, 9 or more people A DAY so we can check our Facebook timelines.

I teach Marketing, not Morality, I tell students who balk at my contention our motivation, without exception, is self-interest. It is important to tell them this fact about us, in order for them to be able to produce effective marketing material down the line when they go to launch their startups. To get people to buy into your product, service or message, you must understand their psychology— what they think they need or want, and why, then offer them solutions to their issues and desires.
Bernie Madoff did it to a lot greedy people. He fulfilled their desire to get rich quick without effort when he convinced them to invest with him.

On the other end of the spectrum, Toyota did it, when they invented the Prius. And Tesla is doing it in 2018 with the consumer version of their all electric vehicle.

Humans are self-interested beings. What we do with this fact is what matters, NOT that we ARE.

Toyota and Tesla produce the cars they do to make money. And while serving themselves, they are moving closer to serving the greater good, by producing cars that have low emissions. Even better than electric cars, is solar and wind to power them, since over 50% of our electricity still comes from burning coal and other fossil fuels, which continues to do immeasurably damage to our planet.

Martin Andrew Green is an Australian professor at the University of New South Wales who’s dedicated his career to developing solar cells. Mr. Green’s self-interest is scratching a mental itch. He’s curious about light energy, and in learning how to manipulate it, his brain rewards him, makes him feel powerful, smart, valuable, serving his emotional needs.

Self-interest in NOT a curse. It is simply a state of being… human, in our case, but seemingly dictates the behavior of everything else that lives on earth. Survival of the fittest is how species last over millennium. Not survival of the kindest, whatever ‘kind’ means. I don’t believe Mother Teresa was kind in spreading gospel that Christianity saves souls. Instead of teaching the value and necessity of socially responsible behavior, which would have served the greater good, preaching rewards in the afterlife does not serve the living or their future.

There is no need to fear the fact that human behavior is driven by self-interest. Regardless of the religious allegory that Altruism is not only real, but mandatory for society to function, self-interest does NOT need to manifest as narcissism. Green, or Toyota, or the parents who work to provide for their kids, or helping a friend in need, most of us contribute to supporting our society or there would be no human race. We have the capacity to be giving, generous, thoughtful beings. Our motivation is irrelevant. It is our ACTIONS that determine our morality, whether or not we are contributing to creating a society that thrives, or participating it our own demise.

Self-interest is coded in our DNA, and is not a threat to humanity, but a valuable characteristic. We just need to lengthen our time horizon to recognize acting altruistically– recognizing our impact on each other and the planet, then accounting for their needs as well as our own, IS in all of our self-interest.

SEX is just SEX

SEX is JUST SEX, regardless of the portrayal in movies that the act of sex we should all aspire to partake in is profoundly loving, a spiritual meeting of mind, body and soul.

SEX IS NOT LOVE. Having sex together can be [but is not limited to] an action of love, by investing the time and effort to stimulate your partner to maximum pleasure/orgasm.

AN ORGASM IS NOT LOVE. It is a biological drive, a primal/base urge both sexes possess (to varying degree between individuals, and generally heightened between the teens through early 40s, then tapering with age). The Pleasure/Reward circuit that lights up our brains with every orgasm is likely encoded in our DNA— part of our evolutionary process— incentive programming to reproduce.

Consenting partners engaged in the act of sex, often equate the pleasure of physicality with feelings of love. This is especially true for first crushes, but the notion that sex and love are synonymous is the gold standard in mainstream morality. It's proselytized by religion, parents, and the media— 'making love' the climax (excuse the pun), consummating the canonical 'happy ending.'

It is NOT an action of LOVE, in the throes of passion, to break marriage contracts of fidelity. It is, perhaps, more egregious to nix the condom to heighten erotic stimulation without knowing the sexual health and history of your partner. These are displays of their lateral orbitofrontal cortex shutting down, blocking out all reason, abandoning all behavioral control to the Pleasure/Reward circuitry in the brain.

Kind of like a gorilla. (They have a hard time with complex reasoning, and predictive modeling— examining the possible consequences of their actions.)

Historically, men are more driven by their biology, claiming to require or desire sex 5 times more than women. However, when either gender is touched appropriately, we are equally hard-wired for stimulated free nerve ending nociceptors to trigger pleasure in our brains.

SEX is NOT LOVE, no matter what your pastor, or TV, or your mother tells you. SEX is JUST SEX.

LOVE is much harder to attain than an orgasm.

In fact, I can take care of my biological need all by myself. Loving myself alone, however, leaves me so very lonely.

From biblical times, humanity has made SEX into so much more than it is because the consequences of intercourse can begin, or end life, as with STDs. Even with the advent of birth control, sex is still riskier for women then men. In 96% of all unwanted pregnancies, the woman still carries the burden of raising the child. (Choosing adoption, or to terminate— each carries their own weight, for life.) We all expect the primary parent defaults to the mother, even today. Steve Jobs is beloved, regardless that for 9 years he denied parentage to his daughter, Lisa, even after DNA testing proved he was her father. Common wisdom professes women are programmed to care for our children. We must not walk away, which is why women and men generally have sex for different reasons.

Women are usually looking to establish a deep[er] connection when we initiate or consent to intercourse. Even with hookups, most women are looking for an intimate bond, a shared emotional space, at least in the afterglow of orgasm. For women, languishing with their lover in this space is equally, if not more satisfying than the orgasm itself. (Women often use sex to draw men out of their own heads. We have for millennium, consciously, and not. You can pretend it's not true, but you'd be lying to you.)

SEX is just SEX, but if Desire— the expectation of the activation of our Pleasure/Reward circuitry— is not satisfied, a predictable pattern of behavior generally emerges.

Women who are unsatisfied sexually with their partner, are usually more unhappy with their partner's behavior in other areas of the relationship. Trying to ignore Desire, simply to stay together often leads to a life of internalized bitterness. And for 19% of married women in the U.S., their fidelity typically falls to a married man who lavishes them with attention, praise, sometimes gifts— actions their partner is not taking, and commonly mistaken as romance, when really, he's just trying to get in their pants. (Heads up, Ladies... Any guy who'll cheat on his partner with you, will [eventually] cheat on you.)

Sexually frustrated men typically withdraw, become more distant. They're less malleable. Less likely to pay attention, be supportive— from offering help with a task, to responding, without passive/aggression, to concerns and issues. This behavior leads to further discord, and less sex, perpetuating the implosion of the relationship.

SEX may be just SEX— our biological drive to reproduce— but with all the mitigating factors that come along with intercourse, the reality is SEX is 5% of the relationship when it's good. And 95% of the relationship when it is not.  

The Bottom Line

“I want to speak with a U.S. rep, NOW!” I said for the 20th time to PRINCESS-050707 in the Philippines. This is my 5th call to yet another 800 number a foreign SEARS rep gave me, assuring me it was a U.S. line.

“I undastan. I'm sody, mem, I cn only get you—”

“I'm on Twitter right now. And I'm telling the world NEVER TO BUY SEARS because you sell CRAP products, and even though I bought the expensive fridge in California, I can't talk to ANYONE FROM THE U.S. I wanta talk with a U.S. rep NOW!” I'm the gorilla, beating my chest. I know it, but I can't stand what's happening in business today.

“I undastand, mem. I'm sody, but...” She doesn't care. She probably doesn't even know what Twitter is.

And the funny bit (not ha ha funny), SEARS doesn't care either. They think that saving money hiring slave labor out of India, or China, or the Philippians is good for their bottom line. And while this attitude is all the rage with Corporate America these days—COMCAST, HP, AT&T, the lot of them— THEY are WRONG.

“...I cn help you, mem, if you pease tell me your issue.”

I've spoken to 5 foreign reps and explained in detail (10-20 min calls each time), I need to file a claim with SEARS for the $500 in food we just lost, and the $500 for the fridge we just spent because their crap KENMORE compressor failed in less than two years, and it'll take two weeks to fix! EVERY rep had put me on hold to search for the non-existent Claims contact number or email. They probably had no clue what a Claim is. Feudal Law rules their country. too, now.

MADE IN AMERICA SEARS has NO CUSTOMER SERVICE in the United States. And they build their crappy products in China, India, Mexico, but NOT THE U.S. And they think this, too, is good for their bottom line, but again, THEY ARE WRONG.

I am NEVER buying anything from SEARS again. And I am not alone...

In 2003, SEARS stock was $19.85 (think 2003 dollar value, to understand their loss). Today, it's at $19. And going down. Well, duh!

The truth is, this new trend of screwing customers to save money by manufacturing crap products, and then making it impossible to get any real support after purchase, isn't helping SEARS bottom line.

I threatened PRINCESS to start a hashtag #IhateSEARS. I looked it up as I was Tweeting about them. #IhateSEARS, #SEARSsucks, and several more like these are ALREADY ON TWITTER! I read the timeline of tweets as PRINCESS rambled on nonsense. Wish I'd read them before I bought from SEARS!

SEARS is dying. And the best bit, they are killing themselves!

January 2000, HP's stock was $30.10 a share. Today, it's $12.34. They, too, destroyed their customer service when they outsourced it. And their products, from their once-praised printers, to their laptops turned to crap as well, when they shipped their manufacturing overseas. The company is failing. HP will likely be a footnote in business history sooner than later. Not so good for their bottom line, either, clearly.

In most of 2000, AT&T was $50-ish a share. It's now $33.16. They also make it impossible to talk to anyone that will actually help resolve issues. I'm being charged monthly for long distance calls we've never made. We don't have long distance on our home phone, but AT&T keeps charging us, though I've spoken with India no less than 25 times over the last 4+ years about this issue.

In many areas, COMCAST is a monopoly, so their customers are screwed for right now. The hashtag #IhateCOMCAST is very popular, however, and is sparking Class-Action lawsuits. Enough losses, and perhaps they'll deliver on their promises of a stable internet connection. Their lobbyists in DC won't be able to sell senators and congressmen on letting them lie, cheat and steal, if the entire country is looking to lynch them.

This blog is a SHOUT OUT of THANKS, to the social advocates, the viral disruptors, the vocal moral minority with the brains and the balls to fight injustice, and then post their experiences with Corporate America on the net. SEARS, COMCAST, HP, AT&T, would like us to shut up. We're hurting them, YEA!, but too slowly to save many from getting screwed.

WE CAN STOP THEM! Faster, together! Today's consumers are “busy” (a convenient excuse), or flat out lazy, with enough cash to just pay the bills instead of fight for what is right. Posting cat videos, or pics of the grandkids may be fun, but it really isn't helping anyone, if this is the extent of your content. This type of complacency allows these corporations to continue stealing our money, but more importantly, our time and energy.

Several times a weeks, until SEARS pays the $1000 they owe us (as they will never compensate us for the time they've stolen or the frustration they've caused), I'll be posting a tweet like this:
NEVER BUY FROM #SEARS AGAIN!! #SEARS SUCKS!! #KENMORE SUCK!! $$$$Crap fridge compressor failed less than 2 yrs! NO CUSTOMER SERVICE!

If even a quarter of their customers in the U.S. posted their problems with SEARS on FB, or Twitter, or Pinterest...etc., SEARS would no longer be in business. The truth, the 'bottom line, is beyond robbing us of our cash, our time, our sanity, the trending business environment is instilling mistrust between us, thus contributing to an aggressive, angry society that deeply hurts us all.


I am an Empath.

Wait! Before you roll your eyes and click off this blog, I don't have any paranormal powers. It isn't magic that I can read people. I'm not psychic. I can't glean people's “energy,” whatever that means, or any of that mystical crap.

What I can do, is tell you what you're thinking and feeling, generally before you know.


If I'm in physical proximity to you, your body (posture, eye contact...etc.), and facial expressions give me tons of data about what you are experiencing inside your head. We all have this ability to read physicality, though most people hardly pay attention to one another, except on rare occasions. Ever had a blind date? The first second you see your date in person, you can tell if they like how you look.

In person, or not— over the wire, or web, I ask a LOT of questions. And I listen to your answers. My brain picks up inconsistencies in what you're saying, telling me you are lying to yourself, and

The first time my DH (of 20 yrs now) met my mother, she said to him, “My daughter (me) was born old.”

What she meant was, I was born plugged in. I don't know why. A genetic anomaly? My senses feel hyper-charged—touch, taste, sound, even vision (clarity in peripheral sight) seem heightened, compared to most (and not just by my reckoning). OCD? Bipolar? Maybe. I've spent a lifetime trying to process the massive amount of information I get from others, and it's exhausting. And I hate it. And I wish I could shut it down, live like most everyone else.

Sort of...

I've picked up patterns in human behavior along the way. Lots! It's another reason I can tell what you're feeling, often before you know. I can now predict likely responses to an enormous array of specific stimuli. It's a fantastic tool for writing believable characters. And understanding what motivates people is equally beneficial for developing marketing campaigns with great response rates.

Yet, I struggle with living plugged in. It's emotionally costly. I lose myself while inside others, acutely feel their pain, their sorrow, their fears and hopes. I've tried to shut my senses down with drugs, both prescription, and not. I had an allergic reaction to Prozac that almost killed me, and no reaction at all to weed over time.

I've become a recluse for the most part. I limit my friendships to very few. I stay plugged into my two teens, my DH, my bratty, but cute Shepard pound hound, which serves them well, though at times, probably not me so much. I disappear, absorbed in them. (To be fair, the dog's needs are simple. No hidden agendas, no unconscious complexities. She makes her feelings obvious. Thank you, Annie!) And while I'll continue to choose living, be here for my friends and family, I must admit, there is, and has always been, a beckoning to shut it all down, turn off the input. Unplug, for good.

Facebook and Ageism

I applied for a Marketing Copywriter position at Facebook about a year ago, 20 years after my first Creative Director position out of college. Facebook rejected me. Bewildered, as I had every qualification, through experience, creating and implementing hundreds of successful campaigns, I asked the HR woman why I was rejected.

“We are looking for someone less qualified.” Her response.

Hmm...Less qualified. Why would that be? We'd discussed no salary expectations. In fact, FB's job app didn't ask me for any. Someone at FB had looked extensively at my online portfolio, as I had a huge spike in page views, from one source, in Menlo Park, according to Google Analytics. The HR woman began her personal rejection email with “Your portfolio is amazing! However...”

What she meant was, “We're looking for someone younger.”

It probably shouldn't have hurt as much as it did, since I wasn't actively job hunting when I answered the FB ad. That particular day, I'd had an argument with my DH about finances. He didn't want me to quit writing fiction for a full time job. I didn't want to quit fine writing either, but selling fiction isn't likely to get our kids through college, especially our daughter, who plans to become a cancer researcher, which requires a doctorate.

What stung so much, was their acknowledgment that it wasn't my skill set they were rejection, but my age. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, who is now over 30 years old, which, according to his own words, makes him stupid, addled, and a bad employment investment.

Hmm...why would anyone with half a brain say such things? Oh, I know, at 22, he only had half a brain to work with. OK. I'll give him ¾. No. . His parents were wealthy before Mark, and provided him with every opportunity for success. (Hardship generally stimulates faster brain maturity, requiring creative survival - thrive solutions.)

The problem with 20-something brains— their neural connections aren't fully established yet. Until our 30s, decision making skills, complex reasoning that only comes with life experience, as well as regulating impulse control are just a few of the skills young people generally lack. Additionally, different areas of our brain peak (and degrade) throughout our lives. Even by Zuckerburg's simplistic view that youth is smarter, thinks faster (his level of cognitive complexity in accordance with his age), at 22, he'd already passed his prime. His brain's raw speed data processor peaked at 19. And he was still 20-30 years away from the ability to evaluate other people's emotional statepsychology being the cornerstone of marketing.

Well, our omniscient Zuckerberg built a global company, his converts proclaim. And that he did. He started FB in 2004, at Harvard, copying the site Hot or Not, which put up pics of students, female students at the time, next to each other for other students to vote which was hot, and not. As a woman, and mother to a daughter, WTF, Mark! But as a purveyor of human behavior, I get that, like teens, young adults are often still motivate by appearance, not substance. (The debate over the intrinsic value of Facebook is ongoing. It's contribution to humanity seems rather nominal, and it's social platform a proven productivity sinkhole in business.)

Mark was verging on 30* when FB became profitable through PPC advertising revenue. And Zuckerberg didn't make that happen alone. Almost 40 yr old, Peter Thiel, invested half a mill in 2005, and helped The Facebook 20-something founders get $13 million in Accel Partners financing a year later. And you can bet, Accel didn't leave it solely up to Mark and his young crew to make them billions.

Mark doesn't proselytize this truth. He's now old/smart enough to know that if you stroke the ego of the young, which is still fragile and forming, you'll get them to work 24/7 (though studies show working long hours does not improve productivity, and hurts a companies bottom line), for a 5th of the salary he'd have to pay experienced pros. Young people aren't particularly gifted, talented, or brilliant, for the most part, as Zuckerberg professes, even today. They're cheap to employ.

Facebook is among the top 100 H1B visa filing employers of foreign workers. Not because Chinese and Indians know more, as tech is an emerging market we are all learning dynamically, but, again, because they are cheap labor, a 10th of a U.S. Worker's salary and benefits. (Specific H1B visa numbers are extremely hard to obtain, as corporations are legally allowed to withhold this information from public scrutiny.)

Mark is growing up, though like most boys, his mindset seems stuck somewhere between his teens and 20s, his arrogance no doubt compounded by his early success. Limiting FB hires to young (and immigrant) workers is immature at best. Study after study show older employee's productivity, creativity and reliability is equal to or higher than that of their younger colleagues.


*Reid Hoffman was in his late 30s when he started LinkedIn in 2003. Even with 4.7 mill in Series A funding, it wasn't until Hoffman was in his early-40s that LinkedIn became profitable.  

Between What is Said, and Heard

On our drive from school the other day my teenage son told me a classmate had offered him a joint. I’d been preparing for this moment, staging it in my head for years, ready with my bag full of allegorical stories of my reckless youth before easing into the “Why drugs are bad for you,” speech. But as I drove home searching for how to begin, I remembered back when I was a teen, walking in on my sister’s confession, and my twisted interpretation of her troubling story...

I was fourteen, finishing 8th grade. Another sunny day in L.A. and I came home sweating from my twenty minute walk from middle school. I heard my sister talking in our parent’s bedroom, which was usually off limits. When I got to the doorway I saw her and mom sitting next to each other on the end of our parent's bed. They stared at me standing in the threshold, looking more like siblings the way their short, thick red hair framed their tear-streaked freckled faces.

I migrated into the room looking back and forth between them and asked what was going on. They shared a non-verbal exchange as I sat across from them on the little cushioned chair in front of the mirrored vanity. After some time mom revealed how my sister had been vomiting and starving herself for the last several years to stay thin. In the telling she became overwhelmed with grief. Fresh tears slid down her cheeks and she covered her mouth and succumbed to her sadness.

My sister took over, sat perched on the edge of the bed and confessed to years of fasting and purging because skinny was in, and she didn’t want to be left out. Like most of her high-school girlfriends, she’d finally achieved what I thought impossible for our well-endowed family lineage. She was unarguably thin.

And I wanted to be her.

I wanted to be rail thin, heroin chic, a cover-girl stunner like my big sister. To me, she was beautiful—sleek, tight. She was what I too aspired to be, what every magazine, TV show and movie showed attractive, desired women should be.

And she’d just told me how to get there.

What I heard her say that afternoon was vomiting worked. I failed to acknowledge her detailed account of the toll the eating disorder took on her body and mind. I stopped listening right after she told me how she’d gotten skinny. Everything that followed was white noise.

From that day forward, and for the next five years I threw up frequently after eating to purge my body of the calories. I tried to ignore that I was tired all the time, and chronically cranky, and falling into a black kind of depression. The desire to be thin superseded all reason. If my sister could do it, I could, and would, and did, regardless of the health risks.

Several years in therapy with a nutritionist gave my sister the fortitude to combat social pressures and become more accepting of her body. I still battle with my weight. Racquetball and running eventually replaced retching, but my sister’s words still echo in my head and taunt me every time I over-indulge—not all of what she said, only what I heard.

I pulled the Prius into the garage this afternoon and I looked at my beautiful son in the rear view mirror awaiting my lecture. My stomach hurt from the burger and fries I’d eaten for lunch earlier. My heart hurt—lost for words of wisdom for my kid. I wanted to purge my body of the heaviness, then shook my head in disgust at the notion, hoping my son didn't catch it. Thirty years later I'm still fighting the voices inside that rationalized my sister's disorder as a workable solution.

I led my son into the house for a snack and a chat. And I lied. I made up a tale of ‘a friend’s’ reckless behavior that lead to disaster. I told story after story of kids I went to high school with who were users and grew up to be losers (though I know none). I assured him popularity did not come with using. I left no space for him to surmise drugs were simple fun, or required to be ‘in.’ I chose my words carefully, considered them from many angles for possible distortion before speaking, even asked him to summarize what I’d said often to make sure we were on the same page. And though he parroted my sentiments in detail, in recalling my experience with my sister, there is now lingering concern he didn't really hear me.

Sometimes, between what is said and what is heard is the Grand f***ing Canyon.

Writer's Block (War Inside My Head)

I have time to write the 2nd draft of PT. Or, at least, I can make time. But I'm NOT WRITING it. 


I CAN'T THINK OF STORY. HELL, I CAN'T THINK other than about my fucked up sitch, in the REAL WORLD, outside of fiction!!

So, what to do with that. I'm thinking enough to write this, right?


Then write something else.

Like what?


Fuck off. Are you NOT hearing me?

Yes. I hear you. you can't write PT. Can you write something else in fiction? Non? A blog?

I don't want to write a blog. I want to write PT, but I can't THINK!

Hmm, we went over that. You're thinking right now. Just not about the right thing. So, lets break the problem down. You say you need story for PT. OK. Make some up.

But that IS the problem. I CAN'T THINK OF ANY. Are you deaf, can't hear me screaming at you? Stupid? What's your deal?

You. You're giving yourself no out, no way to hear your muse, let alone create with her. You're back in algebra, the gates of your brain shutting down, like the steel doors on the Get Smart opening.

Thanks, for stating obvious. You're not really helping me here.

OK. so, you want ideas for PT.

Yes. Please. Now would be good.

Hmm...dystopian, right?

Yeah, but on the verge. Just a bit forward.

Pitch of important points, in order: Predictive modeling gone wrong; Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Yup. But I got that bit. And that's not story. It's exposition.

OK. OK. Chill! Jeez. Give me a minute...
40 years later.

If you don't shut up, it will be.

So, what happens next...