Meet the Morgensons: Learnings from a 3 Million dollar social experiment with Martin Lindstrom

My colleague Robert Dossin and I attended the book launch marketing guru Martin Lindstrom’s Brandwashed organized by publishing company Kogan Page in the British Library (Kogan Page is the English publisher of our InSites guru’s Joeri van den Bergh and Steven Van Belleghem’s books). Lindstrom was interviewed by a former BBC journalist and proved to be a very engaging speaker whose passion for marketing is very inspiring. He told us his story of opening an own advertising agency at the age of 12 (!) where he welcomed LEGO as his first customer. This marked the start of his impressive career in marketing. In 2009, he was termed one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time for his pioneering work in the ground of neuroscience & marketing. Among the many stories and examples from his new book Brandwashed, there was one remarkable case Lindstrom told the audience that really stood out for me.

The Morgensons

Have you ever dreamt of turning a movie into reality? That’s exactly what Martin Lindstrom did after being inspired by the 2010 Hollywood movie The Joneses. The movie tells the story of a team of stealth marketers, professional undercover salespeople who are moving into a high income suburb to secretly and successfully promote products to a highly attractive target group, their neighbours. In a US 3$ million social experiment Martin Lindstrom and his team observed what happens if a real family recommends products to their friends & neighbours.
The Morgenson family was carefully selected from a large amount of candidates by professional Hollywood casting directors to make their new neighbours and friends would perceive them as aspirational and trustworthy. Hidden cameras and microphones were installed throughout the house to capture all the interactions with friends and brand conversations that were about to take place during the experiment.  Check out this video to meet the Morgensons :

What can we learn from this experiment?

In his book, Martin Lindstrom describes the stunning results of this study and how both the parents and the kids clearly exerted influence over the neighbours. On many occasions the Morgensons, both the parents as their children, managed successfully to persuade their friends to buy specific products they had recommended or used in their presence. When the experiment was revealed to Morgensons’s neighbours and friends, all of them were astonished as none of them had ever questioned the intentions of the Morgensons. They had respected and trusted this family so much that they adopted their recommendations and recommendations without any doubts on their motives.
Now what can we learn from these experiments? Martin Lindstrom thinks that we can expect companies applying the stealth marketing strategies from his experiment more and more in the future. But he also argues that brands should become more transparent and honest than ever, if they want to survive in our hyper-connected world where consumers can reveal any dirty marketing that is played on them or broken promise with a simple mouse-click. Authenticity and transparency are key values for companies that want to apply the power of word-of-mouth in their advantage.

What’s next?

I could not agree more with this vision. While corporations might invest more and more in stealth marketing techniques such as the Morgensons, long-term success will only be achieved by those companies that do not have to buy their Word-of-Mouth recommendations. Companies can only earn recommendations by offering truly satisfying products or authentic messages that are worth spreading. This implies you need to understand why consumers are spreading your message or recommending your product. What can make your message as attention-grabbing as a gossip so consumers are happy to share with peers? Or what is preventing satisfied users to spread their experience?
This may vary from product to product and message to message, but it is certain that transparency & consumer-centricity are key factors to succeed in any industry. Instead of acting sneaky and trying to manipulate, companies can only benefit by opening up and allowing consumers to get involved with their marketing. There are numerous examples of companies that already got that message, Starbucks consumer innovation platform ‘My Starbucks Idea’, Nike’s NikeID and DELL’s Ideastorm are among the most famous examples. Another one that I particularly like is the story of John Fluevog, a Canadian shoe designer who designs eco-friendly shoes with a rather distinct style. To give you a taste, his biodegradable soles have the text ‘Resists alkali, water, acid, fatigue and Satan’ engraved into them.

To be honest with you, I am not a huge fans of his designs, but I definitely love the marketing of Fluevog because consumers or Fluevogers are invited to get involved in many ways. They can create their own shoe designs that can become actually mass-produced with their name on it. And for those (like me!) who don’t have the talent to become the next shoe designer, there are other ways to get their voice heard. Fluevog asks his fans to select designs & colours for the next collection and even writes briefings to work on advertisements. Fluevog is no longer selling his shoes from a single store in Vancouver, but on a global scale and some of the crowd-sourced designs have become the company’s top selling products. For me the success of Fluevog proves that there clearly is an audience for his and his fan’s remarkable designs, and also that many companies can learn from his authenticity and openness towards his customer base.
Do you have any examples of how companies successfully engaged with their customers? Or were you the target of a covert marketing trick played on you? Let me know, I am interested to hear your thoughts and experiences!

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