In last week’s cartoon, I parodied some of my favorite clichés in marketing presentation slides.
With just six panels in that cartoon, I had to leave a lot on the cutting room floor. One of my other favorite used and abused slides is the ever-present framework, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed this theory in a 1943 paper on “The Theory of Human Motivation,” where he attempted to classify the universal needs of society. Maslow’s framework is usually shown as a pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom and higher-level needs at the top.
Little did he suspect, I imagine, that this would eventually inspire marketers like me to look at these needs and think, hey, my brand isn’t just a toilet cleaner, it’s an aspirational badge brand!
Much of the job of marketing is thinking of creative ways for brands to stand for something greater. But this can also lead to exaggerate the roles our brands play in people’s lives.
BrandGym founder David Taylor once described a related phenomenon as “Brand Ego Tripping” — “over-estimating the ability of a brand to stretch into new markets.” My favorite historic example of this is when the Colgate marketing team once attempted to stretch the Colgate brand from toothpaste to ready meals with Colgate Beef Lasagna. Mmmm.
The utility of any framework, including Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, depends on how it’s used. It can be great for clarity and to help expand our thinking, but we have to be careful not to breathe our own exhaust.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: