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The national anthem and 6 other things you didn’t know were marketing ploys

Will everyone please just STFU now about the national anthem issues at sporting events? Here’s the truth: you’re fighting over a piece of marketing. Singing this song at sporting events isn’t a matter of spontaneous national pride. Military flyovers, performances of the national anthem, color guard ceremonies, unfurling of the flag….these activities at NFL games are literally PAID MARKETING for the military. Check it:

“As recently as 2015, the Department of Defense was doling out millions to the NFL for such things as military flyovers, flag unfurlings, emotional color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns, and interestingly enough, national anthem performances.” –thinkprogress.org

Donald Trump is the president. The president is the commander in chief of all military services. The military pays for these activities as marketing for nationalism, pride and, ultimately, driving enlistment (recruitment) for the military. Trump is saying, “This is my gig. I pay you to sing the song. So do it.”

So all that said, here are 6 other things you didn’t know were driven by marketing agendas.

1. Gendered clothes for babies.

Right up to the end of the 19th century, boys and girls wore the same frocks until toddlerhood. Mothers writing into advice columns to ask when their children should be put in dresses or pants were told to hold off putting their boys in pants until “he demands it”. This is to say that babies weren’t born into a binary system of fashion designed to insert them into a life role. UNTIL, of course…marketers realized there was money to be made by dividing the genders from birth and selling clothes which weren’t as easy to pass down from sibling to sibling. More on this topic on this episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast.

2. Eggs in cake

Mid-century house wives felt guilty for the very little effort it took to make cake with an instant mix requiring only water. So Betty Crocker added an egg to the directions and -voila!- sales! It’s worth noting here that how this happened is up for debate. The urban legend is that sales of the water-only formulas were disappointing, while some sources claim that sales doubled every year in the beginning and that this egg thing simply revived a flatline. Who knows. Point being that you could make it just fine without an egg, but the target market responded better when it was a bit more work to whip up a delicious cake for your hardworking husband after a long day at the office.

3. Medications

Rogaine (known as a men’s hair-growth aid) was originally for high blood pressure. So was Viagra. On the topic of hair, Propecia (also for male baldness) was originally for enlarged prostates.

Listerine was originally marketed as a medical antiseptic. In 1888 it was recommended “for sweaty feet, and soft corns, developing between the toes.”

Until 1975 when the Burroughs Wellcome company invented a drug for herpes simplex (the mouth variety), there was no stigma. So they first had to create shame and stigma around having herpes in order to sell the drug. Thus, the term “cold sores” was invented to separate it from the genital kind. And, well what a surprise…we have a drug for that!

4. Diamonds for engagement

Mr. Big proposed with Manolo Blahnik shoes. Everyone else? Diamonds. Why? ‘Cuz marketing, bitches. In the 1870s, the De Beers diamond company bought a mine. And had to sell the things. So they started marketing diamond rings as a way to claim your gal. And when they needed to rev up their campaign, version 2.0 was selling the idea that the ring budget should be 2 months of the guy’s salary. Come to think of it, I wonder if Beyonce’s “put a ring on it” line is a crafty product placement. On that note, I give you #5…

5. Product Placement

We can all see it a million miles away, right? The hero gets a phone call…on the top of a mountain…and we know he (or she!) hasn’t been near a charing source in the last couple hours. Yet, as if by magic, their beautifully designed iPhone ___ (insert latest model here) accepts the call. And, oh, that Mini Cooper chase scene in the Italian Job. Some entire movies are giant commercials from start to finish (like Nocturnal Animals which was a glam 2 hour commercial for all things Tom Ford). And while some placement can be despicable and downright embarrassing, others might come as a surprise. First, I must say…in ad school, we were taught that Judy Garland’s ruby slippers were a stealthy, classy placement for Swarovski Crystals. The fan I am, I have heavily researched this and find no sources claiming such a thing. I desperately wish it were true. But did you know….DID YOU KNOW??! that James Dean’s use of a comb in Rebel Without a Cause caused sales of Ace Combs to soar? That Hershey’s saw a 65% increase in sales after use of Reese’s Pieces in E.T. and that Mars turned down the opportunity for them to use M&Ms instead? That Ray-Ban almost cut production on Wayfarers but we still think they’re cool because Tom Cruise wore them 30+ years ago in Risky Business? Indeed, product placements can be successful without being overt. The brands don’t need to be named. But sometimes they are and that’s what makes them successful partnerships. Case in point? Music. From Snoop Dogg’s love of Seagram’s Gin in “Gin & Juice” to Katy Perry claiming her gal conquest tasted of cherry Chapstick, there’s bigbux to be made crooning about brands you love.

6. Father’s Day

…to sell greeting cards, you say? Wrong! Father’s Day was initially invented during the Great Depression to sell menswear. Mother’s Day, on the other hand, was intended to celebrate mothers and its founder, Anna Jarvis, reportedly spent the latter part of her life trying to remove if from the calendar because of commercialization.

7. This blog post

Inbound marketing is all about catching your readers off guard on their search for useful, value-adding or just downright entertaining content. Big brand do it, and small businesses can, too.

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