With most of the human genome now discovered there are people in some quarters who would have us believe that genes drive pretty much any decision we make.  Folks have suspected for some time that things like aggression, happiness and depression could be genetic and inherited, now there’s speculation that there is a gene that determines conformity – yes, there are definitely people who like to be part of groups and those who like to express their individualism by owning niche products, apparently, its genetic! 

Maybe this makes the case for genetic testing as a part of the recruitment process?  You could identify people who think outside the box, or those who are natural leaders for management positions and others who are routine orientated who would be best suited to transactional roles.  Business success in the future could be guaranteed by the genetic make-up of your board, or even your work-force.

Just think, educational achievements could be of secondary importance on our CVs in years to come (I’ve been suggesting that for years) being relegated by your certificate of genetics, that would automatically qualify you for the top jobs regardless of what you have learned, simply because leadership is literally in your nature.

The potential is way beyond that though.  We know that brands are about membership to communities – large or niche.  Perhaps future marketers will be studying media data that identifies the genetics of their audience and planning media investment, message etc on the basis of a genuine biological propensity to purchase.  It’s well within the bounds of reason that we could identify groups of people who like to fit in and those that like to stand out and pitch brands accordingly.  Just think, there could be a gene or combination of genes that accounts for the kind of unshakable brand loyalty that we see with Harley Davidson or Apple computer purchasers or even religious zeal.

What really intrigues me though is the notion that we could implant genes to change behaviour.  In fact, its more than a notion, scientists are doing that kind of thing already.  OK so implanting genes is tricky to get right, but so was flight once and now its all too common. 

Apparently its not just about single genes, but combinations of genes.  The multitude of unique formulae that are possible with the estimated 20-25,000 genes in the human genome is represented by the different character traits we see among humankind and once you have the basics provided by the genes there’s still further scope for individualism, you can fine-tune them with social influences.  

So far I’ve only mentioned naturally occurring genes, but I’m sure someone somewhere is already working on creating entirely synthetic genes from scratch.  Just think what we can do with that idea.  A manufacturer could commission a gene that drives a tendency to purchase their product.  Then all you have to do is find a way to introduce that into a worthwhile section of the community and you are away! 

Where’s all this heading?  Well maybe the marketing consultancy of the future will be identifying markets for their clients by genetic analysis.  Brand strategies would be less about ensuring that your brand appealed to a worthwhile consumer segment and more about introducing genes into food products to create loyalty among those who ate them.  You would only have to organise tastings in supermarkets and it would just be a matter of sampling enough people to represent a worthwhile market – once they had tasted they would be hooked!  Sales would be assured!  Once that’s possible, food products will become the media with food manufacturers providing the opportunity to producers of non-food items and luxury goods to introduce their “buy” gene via the food chain.  Hey, you could polish off a plate of fish-fingers and immediately develop an irresistible desire to own a Ferrari, financed by some financial services group whose gene you had also consumed as a part of the media package!

When you consider the plan that the UK government had to add folic acid to bread to reduce spina bifida you have at least some of the ingredients for a society where the introduction of genes in this way is socially acceptable.  It would probably start with governments introducing behaviour modifying genes to control law and order, the next step might be religious groups working to convert non-believers and from there its just a small step to full-blown commercialisation!  And if you think that people wouldn’t stand for it, don’t forget that resistance could be reduced or eradicated by adding compliant genes to the water supply!

Then again, maybe it would just take the fun out of marketing!?

Michael Weaver
December 26, 2007

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