At the recent Fashion Colloquia at Milan’s Domus Academy a panel discussion described marketing as “a shiny box” and dismissed vision as “a marketing word”.
It was fascinating and frankly depressing to hear how people outside of the bubble of advertising events and marketing conferences talked about my craft.
In The Marketing Fallacy I wrote that the vast majority of people didn’t care about marketing and advertising. What I saw in Milan showed me that people saw marketing as a side-show or novelty-act. There was no respect for the craft, if anything it was a waste of time or a distraction.
“I have always felt as though marketing professionals are seen as sleazy and pretentious wankers who’d sell their own grandmother if the price was right”
For many years society has viewed marketing with suspicion. Memes about marketing describe marketers as a mix of brand-obsessed child snatchers and horror movie hypnotists.
Only 10% of consumers trust advertising and one friendly chap on Twitter goes as far as to describe adverts as “a form of violence against the psyche”.
“I’d get drunk and cry that I was ashamed of selling out for a marketing career”
Before I worked in marketing, I worked in law enforcement. I worked for the Document Exploitation Unit of HM Customs & Excise. When a friend of mine offered me more money (and frankly more fun) to work for a digital marketing agency I made the move from protecting society to helping Pedigree sell joint care for dogs. I felt morally bankrupt. I’d get drunk and cry that I’d made a terrible life choice.
Have you ever wished that you worked in a more morally rich career like teaching or nursing? Have you questioned the value of marketing? If the answer is yes, pack it in!
I’m calling bullshit on being ashamed of marketing!
Assumptions that marketing is ‘evil’ is damaging to the marketing industry, ignorant of our craft and disrespectful to those that practice it. Marketing is a skill-set to be proud of.
But first …
Marketing in a 21st century context
The origins of the word marketing are from the Latin word mercari which means ‘buy’. This developed via Anglo-norman French and English to become ‘merchant’, ‘market, and thus marketing.
It is important to understand the historical origins because the 21st century merchant is very different to their historical counterpart. When the words were first ‘being born’ the merchant was focused on trade; exchanging one object for another of equal value.
In the 21st century the neo-liberal merchant is interested in profit: accumulating wealth by increasing the gap between an objects true value and its perceived value.
This shift fundamentally changed the role of the marketer from someone who communicated the true value of a product into someone who increased the perceived value of a product beyond its true worth. Put simply, marketing is sometimes used to make something seem worth more than it actually is.
But is marketing evil? No.
Marketing and selling aren’t bad
Selling: Giving someone a product in return for something.
Marketing: Making people aware of a product and its benefits
Although marketing commonly involves trading products for money, it is not limited to that. Marketing is also required in any scenario where a person needs to communicate why one person’s offer is worth something to another.
The offer could be any product, service, idea or information that they are willing to trade for another person’s money, time, influence, personal data or skills.
For example …
- Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
“Trade lifestyle choices for eternal salvation”
- Gandhi’s sit-in.
“Accept my ideals in return for your convenience”
- Nelson Mandela’s. Spear of the Nation
“Trade safety and security for human rights”
- All toddlers.
“Trade TV for a moment’s peace and quiet”
The purpose behind all of these actions is to increase the perceived value of their offer. Black rights were considered worthless in the Apartheid regime, but a campaign (both violent and non-violent) increased their perceived value. Few people would argue that it was a worthwhile campaign.
Marketing helps to drive people to the blood bank. Marketing helps to defeat drink driving. Marketing helps to sell warm coats in winter. Marketing helps people to catch the right train, to try new restaurants and new cuisines, to see new films and learn new stories about the world they share with 6 billion others. Marketing can do a lot of good. It’s the responsibility of the marketer to use it in the right way.
Marketing isn’t just a pretty box, it’s an X-ray
I’ve heard many people describe marketing as the ribbon you tie around a finished product. The thing you use to make it look pretty to attract people’s attention, the lipstick on a pig. While, I must agree, that attracting attention is important you’re f*cked if you think that’s all you need. You’re also going to stay single for a very long time.
Most people couldn’t care less about your offer. Whether you’re a devout Christian, a global brand or the best undiscovered busker, you’re all just shouting in the street unless you’ve got something of interest.
A Big Issue seller might sell 100 copies a week, in a spot that has an average footfall of 1,294,470 people per week. They’ve got attention, a reasonable product and a strong charitable message but nearly 1.5 million people a week walk past without buying a magazine.
Vendors find it hard to overcome the stigma of being homeless at the same time as communicating the benefits for the reader and the knock on benefits for the charity. Good marketing could give them the tools to make passers-by feel more comfortable, see the benefits and increase sales.
Good marketing should cut-through social stigma and false perceptions so that people can be free to make decisions they feel happy about. If you’re using marketing to put lipstick on a pig, you’re doing it wrong.
Perceived value is real value
In April 2015 research from the University of Bonn and INSEAD Business School asked participants to drink wine in a CAT scanner. As they drank the wine, they were told how much it cost. While the cost of the win increased, the wine itself didn’t change.
Participants reported that the ‘more expensive’ wine was more enjoyable. Their brain scans supported this, showing the more expensive wine lit up the part of the brain associated with the enjoyment and self-control normally exhibited when enjoying something expensive/limited.
The experiment proved that if a consumer thinks something is more expensive, they can actually experience the benefits of it being more expensive.
Good marketing doesn’t just reveal the true value of a product it adds true value by enhancing the experience. Whether that experience is the pride of owning an exclusive designer item of clothing or the satisfaction of grabbing a Poundshop bargain, those are real positive emotions felt by real people. How can marketing be all bad if it makes people feel good?
We all have things to be proud of and some things we’re not
Just like all advertising professionals aren’t Don Draper, nor are all teachers Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. Yes, all teachers have the chance to shape the minds of young people. As a marketer you have the chance to shape the minds of ALL people.
Musharaf moments don’t happen every day
When we think of teachers we have a tendency to romanticize the whole experience. TV shows like Educating Yorkshire show moments like Mr Burton helping Musharaf; a young student overcoming a debilitating stammer. But even Mr Burton says “Musharaf moments don’t happen every day”.
On most days I work on projects that keep businesses ticking over or grow a brand. But I’ve also had my fair share of Musharaf moments. I’ve raised money and awareness for homeless charities like Simon on the Streets. I’ve worked on Microsoft’s Modern Jago to run free classes to help local business owners and I was part of the winning team at The Drum’s Plan It Day; a hack-day sponsored by big brands aimed at tackling big social problems.
As a marketer you don’t get to change the world every day but you might do one day and that’s a lot more than a lot of people. And on the days you don’t, you’ll have to settle for helping tired old dogs have a little bit more fun.