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What marketers can learn from Nick Willis

What marketers can learn from Nick Willis

Nick Willis is a golden boy of New Zealand sport. He won Olympic silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the Men’s 1500 metres. In case you missed it, he recently came out and admitted he had a porn addiction. I admire him for his bravery yet I have problems with the definition of addiction as it’s used here.

The way his porn addiction has been portrayed, both by himself and the media, is that he conquered a demon of some sort. Maybe he did but it must have been a small one. And this got me thinking, what exactly constitutes an addiction?

I have always thought that an addiction is an affliction where you are extremely dependent on getting a fix of some sort. Which means I’m addicted to breakfast cereal, especially Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Breakfast cereal has been my number one go-to fix since I was about six years old. These days I go through Raisin Bran at an alarming rate. I absolutely love it. Even when my wife makes waffles or pancakes for breakfast on the weekends I still find a way to get my Raisin Brand fix.

So in the greater scheme of things, where does my Raisin Bran addiction and Nick’s porn addiction sit? According to the American Psychiatric Association, porn addiction is not recognised as a true addiction and the only behavioural addiction they recognise is gambling. So I guess neither of our addictions are such a big problem after all.

I’ve always thought of addictions as something destructive. Consider a hard core drug addiction. People with this type of addiction tend to seriously screw their lives up. They lose their cars, houses, families, jobs, friends, prospects, self belief and they often end up pulling a hoodie over their heads and robbing a dairy to get some cash to finance their fix.

Did something as destructive as this happen to Nick? Here’s a guy who won Olympic silver. Is he saying he would have won gold if it wasn’t for his porn addiction? Was his life ruined so badly that he could only come second? I don’t think so. He achieved what 99.9999% of New Zealanders never will, all the time while having a porn addiction.

And here’s the part where marketers should listen. Nick’s addiction is at the boring centre of all possible addictions. No drugs or alcohol for him, nothing too wild or imaginative, nothing too destructive, nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, just boring old porn. His is the vanilla of addictions.

The point I’m making here is that nothing remarkable ever happens in the centre of the market. In almost every market the boring slot is filled and porn addiction is proof of this. The product designed to appeal to the largest possible audience already exists, and displacing it is awfully difficult. Difficult because the very innocuousness of the market leading product is its greatest asset. How can you market yourself as “More bland than the leading brand”? The real growth, the real power that persuades and influences consumers, comes with products that annoy, offend, are too expensive, too cheap, too heavy, too complicated, too simple, too loud or too addictive. Better to be too much of something than too little of nothing.

Consider this the next time you launch a product that’s got too much vanilla in it, or an advertising campaign that’s aiming for the biggest possible audience. People just don’t care enough about the middle. And if you disagree, take a look at the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. It confirms my ravings in this post and my position as it always has been on advertising: you’ll never get to the middle unless you start at the edges first.

PS. It might just be that Nick's trying to gain further fame through sex? It seems all the rage in Hollywood with Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton setting the standards, low as they are. Who knows.