Addiction Marketing


“Addiction Marketing” is a phrase I coined a few years back while waiting in line for my drink at Starbucks. I was observing the mass of people who like lost explorers in the desert rushing for an oasis seemed to be desperate for their daily (if not more frequent) fix of caffeine. It was at that moment that I realized that one of Starbucks key business drivers, if not their most critical business driver, was that Starbucks sells products that cater to peoples addictive tendencies. What Starbucks has done better than many other addictive marketers is that they also make it cool and trendy to succumb to your addiction. In today’s blog post I’ll examine addiction as a key success factor in business.

When I was in school economics professors would lecture on using supply and demand drivers to create a business advantage…business professors would evangelize the strengths of the recurring value and stability of consumable products…marketing professors would espouse the benefits of relationship marketing, but nowhere do I recall being able to register for a class on addiction. However if you think about “Addiction Marketing” you’ll quickly realize what the “media pushers” on Madison Avenue and the product development and marketing gurus in the corporate world have known for years…all people have their unique set of vulnerabilities that if creatively and effectively exploited will lead to strong sales and powerful brands.

If you read the business news over the weekend you’ll have noticed that the Indian government is attempting to force Coca Cola and Pepsi to divulge the formulas to their popular beverage products. One of the charges being upheld in the Indian High Court is that Coke and Pepsi products are addictive and unhealthy…Hmmm…Examine the following representative list of successful businesses and/or industries and come to your own conclusions as to whether these businesses or industries prey on the addictions of consumers world-wide to generate their revenue:

Las Vegas – The tagline “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” caters to virtually every possible addiction under the sun…Sin City lives up to its reputation.

Tag Body Spray – Tag’s recent commercial campaign has taken the phrase “Sex Sells” to a whole new level…In this campaign all an adolescent male needs to do is to spray himself with the Tag product and he finds himself instantly being attacked by hordes of attractive young women…If you have a teenage son, it would be a safe bet that Tag is his cologne of choice.

The Beer and Alcohol Industry – You will be hard pressed to find a beer or alcohol company that doesn’t portray consumption of their beverage as the key ingredient to a lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women, successful careers, etc.

The Tobacco Industry – The tobacco industry has been publicly hammered for selling products that leverage the addictive effects of Nicotine and even with all the known health hazards smokers face, in many instances the addictive nature of the product is greater than peoples ability to make a logical decision.

I don’t think anyone will dispute the examples noted in the above list as obviously preying on consumer’s addictive tendencies. However what about the more subtle side of the addiction business? Isn’t Starbucks using the same addictive business tactics as those industries listed above? What about companies in the luxury products sector? Companies that sell high end products and services cater to the elitist attitudes of this segment allowing consumers to make statements about their socioeconomic status based on the products they purchase. Is this not also catering to addictive tendencies?

OK, now I’ll hit a little closer to home…What about my company’s value proposition? We sell success…Is it not possible to look at success as being an addiction? How about the social networking industry? Are social networkers and bloggers addicted to the interaction, attention, etc. that the new media platform affords? While I could go on, I think my point has been made…I’m certainly not implying that all consumers are addicts, nor am I implying that all companies are “pushers”, but I am pointing out that addiction marketing sells and that many companies use this as a strategic advantage. In fact, I believe the evidence is clear that a business can create a strong strategic advantage in sustainability if they find no ethical flaw in what I’ve coined as “Addiction Marketing”.

The bottom line is that I love to travel and watch movies and I don’t think it makes me an escapist…I have a penchant for Starbucks (venti caramel frappacinos in particular) and I don’t think I’m a caffeine addict, I appreciate the fine clothes and quality automobiles and I don’t believe that makes me a social elitist. However I have also come to realize that my perceived addictive tendencies are clearly attempting to be preyed upon by creative and intelligent marketing and product development efforts. I’ll leave you with the following questions to ponder:

What is the difference between pleasure and addiction?

Do you feel “Addiction Marketing” is ethical?

Does your company partake in addictive marketing strategies and tactics?

And, when was the last time you made a purchase based upon your addiction?


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