Marsh­mal­low mar­ket­ing and why you should care
Jeff & Lindsay Sage / 21 October 2021

The marshmallow test. 

It’s one of the most famous pieces of social science in the world. 

Put a marshmallow in front of a kid in a room that has little else in it. Tell her that she can have a second marshmallow if she can go a while without eating the first one, then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her sugary payload was indicative of an innate willpower that will pay dividends later in life. Passing the test and getting two pieces of gooey goodness was a promising signal of future success. Better grades, higher salary and a healthier lifestyle. 

The original test by Walter Mischel in the 1960’s was flawed. It turns out that waiting for the second marshmallow is more shaped by a child’s social and economic background. If you grow up in a home wondering where your next meal is going to come from, it’s no surprise that you might not trust the existence of the second marshmallow. Opting for a take what you can get and take it now strategy makes a lot more sense to someone who’s not sure what’s actually going to be there tomorrow. 

But the experiment got us thinking. Has the entire marketing industry failed the original marshmallow test?

Do our teams and tacticians lack the patience to invest in longer term-business results over the immediate gratification of short-term digital metrics? When chasing the never-ending list of shortcuts and the quick kill - do we always grab that first marshmallow?

Being swayed to the tactical is easier and more dangerous than ever. Without a clear destination in mind, the sweet treat of the day can lead you to places you don’t want to go.

Try to teach your pet the concept of tomorrow. You can’t. And that’s arguably what makes humans so special. 

So the next time you're ramping up the marketing, branding, advertising, communications and public relations priorities be sure to forgo the first marshmallow. 

Instead, begin and continue to work with tomorrow in mind.  

It’s a sure fire way to matter.


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