Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Business Bigots

Tom Paine wrote:
Reducing people to categories is useful, so that's why we do it. A woman is gay, straight or bisexual, and once in that pigeon hole, is no longer something we have to think about.
Which is true. Really it is. The ability to categorize and separate into groups is one of the reasons for human survival.
Thought is predicated on an ability to categorize input -- to recognize similarities and differences -- and action involves alteration of one's relationship to the environment. These are fundamental survival skills, and science and technology are their most important prostheses.
(Neil Greenberg (Professor of Zoology) "Science and Technology as Human Endeavors" as published in Liberal Education, 1986.)

In the creation of categories we ensure our survival in simple terms. Things are either "dangerous" or "safe," they are "like me" or "unlike me," they are "edible" or "inedible" etc. Through the use of science, we are able to more clearly identify and therefore categorize.

The American psychologist Eleanor Rosch made a series of studies examining the way in which individuals in many different situations and different cultures grouped objects into categories. During her study Rosch found that individuals not only classify objects as in (or out) of specific categories, but also judge them as 'better' or 'worse' examples of the category.

However, this strength of ours also has weaknesses, which are explained by Russel Kayser in "The Mechanism and Function of Awe: A Cognitive Enhancement Theory":
Our cognitive ability to affirm and negate, to recognize similarity and difference, and to see parts fitting into wholes, enables us to create predictable categories and concepts, and thereby map the world. This domain of categorization is described by Roschian Graded Structure, a conceptual model influential in designing the present study (Rosch, 1975).

The two basic principles of Roschian category theory are that categories provide the most information for the least cognitive effort, and that the world presents itself as a structured entity, not as a collection of arbitrary attributes. Roschian category theory concludes that maximum information is attained with the least cognitive effort when categories map world structure as efficiently as possible (Rosch, 1978).
When we do this with people, creating groups of types of people, we are creating stereotypes. Stereotypes are really just categories allowing us to "pre-judge" something. Prejudice and stereotypes are not necessarily 'bad' unless they are inaccurate, based on ignorance without direct or actual experience. When such inaccurate views are put into action, you have bigotry.

Marketers often make stereotypes and pre-judge people when creating 'targeting markets.' We often have to lump folks into categories in order to create products for them and to reach them. (What do these people need? What do they want? Where do these people live? What do they read?)

This is not a bad thing unless the marketer pays no attention to the real people in those assigned categories. A marketer who doesn't know and study markets, especially his own product's target market, is a lazy marketer. At best he just creates bad campaigns; at worst, he's a bigot.

Since categorization is vital yet requires the "least cognitive effort" this means many humans are lazy with categorization. They have placed an item in a category, a person in a group, and that's that ~ no further effort is required. Our human tendency to generalize also gets us in a lot of trouble. Even if there has been research, study and experience we need to remain flexible with our categorization.

As Kayser wrote:
Once categories are formed, it is important that they remain true to the real world on two levels. Categories must resist degradation, yet remain sensitive to change. Information degradation can erode the validity of a category to the point that it becomes a source of disinformation. But even if informational fidelity is maintained, the world continues to change, and categories must responsively adapt to these changes to remain valid. Rigid categories are nonadaptive. It is important that we keep our categories flexible so that we can map changes around us, but it is also important that the categories remain sufficiently stable to preserve predictability.
So when you consider your target market, what prejudices do you have? Is your definition of the market based on the real world, actual experiences, studies or accurate information? Has that group changed over time? Have you noticed this and changed your marketing to reflect it?

Naturally those of us in the adult industry feel we are put into meaningless stereotypical categories and are treated to business bigotry. Race and gender are still very misunderstood and this shows in the marketing. But what about you? What generalizations have you made which are no longer relevant?

When we speak of adaptation we should not just be talking about what latest tech gadget you use or which media format is 'the best' but rather we should be focusing on adapting our message properly. Then, armed with that message we should consider which medium will deliver that message best to our target audience.

Anything less isn't just bad marketing, unsuccessful marketing, but is business bigotry.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Emily Veinglory said...

I find it interestong that these days before teaching a lesson on 'discrimination' I must spend a full 5 minutes or more giving the dictionary defintion or the word to establish I am discuasing our ability to treat things that are actually different differently, rather than bigotry. Our judgments about real difference are always imperfect but so long as they are fair and flexible the ability to discrinate is a skill, not a weakness.

April 25, 2007 9:13 PM  
Blogger Emily Veinglory said...

p.s. sorry about those typos. I am lying on a hotel bed with a laptop on a chair at the furthest extent of its ethernet cable. This is making my usually terrible typing skills even worse.

April 25, 2007 9:15 PM  

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