Shampoo, AIDA and Why Marketers Are Evil

I have this long lasting debate with my wife about shampooing. Yes, I know, it’s ridiculous. Some nights, my 4-year-old daughter refuses to shampoo her hair. I think it’s okay to not shampoo every night, but my wife thinks differently. “You have to shampoo every day,” she says to my daughter, “your hair will get ruined if you don’t.” I once challenged this statement and was told “Seriously? Of course it’s true.” Who am I to challenge such a convincing argument? And she’s a doctor, so she should know.

One night, after another 3-minute debate on the merits of shampooing, my daughter made the argument that she doesn’t want to shampoo because she “just doesn’t want to.” Tired of arguments I can’t debunk, I went ahead and researched shampooing best practices. I disabled my cookies to avoid years of shampoo ads retargeting, and dove into the exciting world of hair beauty. I soon discovered that I was right! Not only do you not have to shampoo every day, it can actually be unhealthy to do so. So why does my wife, an extremely intelligent, highly educated woman, so strongly believe that you must shampoo at least once a day?

The simple answer is because marketers are evil.


Short history of shampoo ads

It turns out that the current trend of over-shampooing began in 1908 when a New York Times column entitled “How to Shampoo Your Hair” recommended “the shampooing of the hair as often as every two weeks.” It went on to say that “from a month to six weeks should be a better interval if the hair is in fairly good condition.”

The shampoo conspiracy continued in the 1970s with the famous Faberge Shampoo ad featuring the late Farrah Fawcett. The commercial drew a strong tie between shampooing and beauty, making viewers believe that if they only used shampoo more frequently, they might be as beautiful as Farrah.

So my wife, who was born into the marketing machine of Faberge, P&G and Unilever, was ‘brain-shampooed’ with the notion that shampooing every day is important–no–crucial, for the health of your hair. Brilliant marketers found ways to create a need when one didn’t exist before and now my daughter grows up under the false assumption that she must shampoo once a day or else her hair will get ruined.

On needs and FUD

In the psychological model of the consumer purchase cycle (the simplest model is called the AIDA model), in order to get to a purchase decision, one must go through the Awareness and Interest stages. So what do you do when awareness doesn’t exist? In lieu of a clear need, marketers tasked with creating demand for their products and services will find ways to create the need or position the product to address another need.

Needs come in three basic categories: psychological, functional and economical. The easiest needs to address are functional and economical. “Do you need to save money? We’ll help you do it.” “Is your car broken? We can fix it.” But these needs are also more short-lived than the psychological (emotional) needs; once you solved the need, you’re done. When it comes to psychological needs, if you’re able to connect with prospects on a deep emotional level, trigger something in them that creates strong, positive (or negative) emotions, you are more likely to stay top of mind and impact their buying decisions.

But there are two chief ways to create those emotions: by positive messages (a la Faberge’s Farrah commercial) or negative messages (watch the below Pantene Pro V commercial).

The FUD system (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) has been used extensively throughout the years in ads and marketing campaigns, but a strong debate still exists on what is working better – positive or negative messages. The general consensus is that in your messaging, focus on the positive — on benefits and value. But in lieu of real need, like shampooing every day, can you really create a need using only positive messages?

I’m a believer in positive reinforcement and positive messaging, but I can’t ignore how strong FUD arguments can be sometimes – those that come up midway through a heated debate about shampooing a 4-year old “because we don’t want to ruin her hair.”