In 1973, the year of Bahamian independence, the US-based fast food chain Burger King launched the “Have it your way” advertising campaign. In a famous jingle the chain promised they could: “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way!”
The burger house, like others, was spreading its franchise globally, and adding a critical dimension to its marketing strategy. That dimension was giving consumers a customized product with greater choice, a hamburger made to order satisfying a range of tastes.
Burger King’s strategy was the opposite of what the automobile pioneer Henry Ford quipped in 1909 about the mass-produced Model T: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”
The revolution sparked by the iPod and intensified by smart phones and other mobile smart devices was marrying portability and ubiquity of service to a dazzling array of choices. No matter where we are we can utilize smart devices and a wireless connection to near instantaneously access all manner of content.
We no longer have to purchase an entire CD to get the song we want. Now we can mix Lady Gaga, rake and scrape, and Bach’s Piano Concerto in F Minor from the musician of our choice.
With devices like the Kindle and the Nook, we can hit a hyperlink from an article online taking us respectively to our Amazon or Barnes & Noble account downloading a book through a one-step order process all done wirelessly in 30 seconds. This isn’t just choice; its choice on steroids meets instant gratification for bibliophiles or those simply interested in a given subject matter.
Today, we enjoy an extraordinary variety of choice in selecting the content of our liking whether in entertainment, news, general information, pornography or whatever peaks our curiosity or suits our fancy.
The reality of this array of choices engenders what might be called the sociology of choice influencing everything from ethics to education to politics. The worlds of advertising and marketing have an in-depth understanding of this new social ecology, applying it to sell every product or service imaginable from soap to sex.
The new mega churches understand the power of choice, while many traditional churches are still scratching their heads and souls wondering what’s going on. The latter are often paralyzed by a static approach to new technologies and how to reach and influence current and prospective churchgoers.
The more cutting edge educational institutions understand the importance of integrating choice and various communications technologies to enhance student learning, such as utilizing experiential education methods employed by programs like the International Baccalaureate.
Meanwhile, many schools in The Bahamas, public and private, are lagging behind in approaches to teaching and learning, failing to connect the daily experience of their students with new approaches to learning.
In the political realm, one of the more important marketing features of the Democratic National Alliance was offering voters a different choice. Whether the DNA was a good or sensible choice is another matter. Still, by offering the idea of a different choice, the party attracted a fair number of voters probably costing the FNM a number of seats.
Those who fail to understand this notion of choice, whether religious groups, political parties or businesses, will pay a price in terms of votes, clients and adherents.
By example, the government-operated postal system is a dinosaur with a near fossilized network of branches. Because it was unable to deliver mail to consumers in a timely manner, thousands of Bahamians now utilize private post boxes for international mail and packages.
The lower level of the Main Post Office downtown where parcel posts can be collected resembles a graveyard. Still painted drab green the sign over that section should read: Rest in Peace.
In promoting a new mission for post offices as Government Information and Services Centres, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was attempting to drag the postal system from the 19th to the 21st century.
What many older folks are still getting used to in terms of the new world of choices galore, is second nature to younger people. Shopping at the Mall at Marathon, a 19-year-old is mesmerized by a love song she is hearing in a store playing a recording through its satellite radio service, Sirius XM, which offers the storeowner and clients a plethora of musical choices.
The young lady is so enchanted by the sultry voice she is hearing for the first time that she has to know who is the artist pining, “Black is the colour of my true love’s hair…”
Our 19-year-old holds her smart phone up to the source of the music, hits the Tag button on her Shazam mobile application to identify Nina Simone singing her 1964 recording of “Black is the Colour.”
Later at home, the young lady listens to several of Simone’s recordings, and then posts a note on Facebook declaring to her over one thousand “friends” her infatuation with the artist, ten of whose songs she’s already downloaded.
Inspired by her posting, several of her friends have also downloaded some of Simone’s recordings, including a friend living in Seattle, who Skypes her that evening to share that she also has a newfound love of the artist.
All of which speaks to the other critical feature of the new world of technology and choice. The world of one-way communication has passed. Choice has been married to interactivity. What both choice and interactivity appeal to is the desire for agency, the ability to express one’s desires.
By tapping into choice, a marketer, salesman or public relations expert taps into something fundamental and powerful in the human psyche, namely, the desire for individuality, with a complex of messages from an individual such as: “I matter!”, “I’m important!”, “Don’t take me for granted!”, and related messages of individuation.
Today, choice is not just something we appreciate. We demand and expect to have multiple choices. Yet there are a number of ethical dimensions to so much choice, including maintaining an ethic of a common good, how to choose wisely, and how to cultivate good or ethical decision-making and critical thinking in young people.
In terms of the latter, many of our schools are oblivious to the type of experiential education, critical thinking methods, ethical instruction and media literacy absolutely necessary to prepare our young people for a world quite different from when Bahamians needed an antenna on the roof to pick up one of three stations from Florida.