Out-spending is Cheaper

Kathy Sierra wrote an interesting post entitled You can out-spend or out-teach, which I think does a nice job of capturing the current Cluetrain-inspired thinking on how Everything is Different Online#8482;. I'm skeptically optimistic about the changing marketplace of ideas. I think Kathy does a fine job of articulating my optimism, so I want to focus on my skepticism here.

The title is a good place to start. Kathy explains the virtues of teaching over spending, but I think anyone who has spent a day in a classroom will tell you that if it were possible to buy learning, they would. Teaching is hard. Spending is easy.

And selling is also easier than learning. Kathy likes to talk about helping your users kick ass, but most users don't want to kick ass. Most people, most of the time, want to know what they're doing — not learn how to do something new. That's why we spend so much time watching TV rather than reading books. We want something easy. Buy this pill and everything will be okay. If I believed it, I'd buy the pill. And the temptation allows a lot of people to convince themselves, to deceive themselves, that it's true.

It's easy to blame the advertising agencies (though maybe not so easy for me now that I work at one) for selling us crap. It's easy to blame the Walmarts for stocking crap. It's easy to blame the ACMEs for manufacturing crap. But what about the customers? We buy the crap. We know it's crap, but we buy it anyway because crap is cheap. How do you teach someone who doesn't want to learn?

I hope this is changing. I hope people are gradually taking a more active role in their own lives, and shifting towards decisions and products that help them kick ass. But I don't see it changing fast enough to warrant calls for everyone to shift from out-spending to out-teaching. There's not a big enough market of students to handle all the would-be teachers.

Hugh McLeod was in traditional advertising and decided to try something new by doing word-of-mouth advertising through blogs, "blogvertising," he calls it. And it appears to be working for him. But he's selling fine wine and business suits. This is a very small niche market. Kathy is selling technology books. Another small niche market. I hope some day the world will be full of niche markets as we all explore the full diversity of the human experience. But Hugh is proclaiming (traditional) advertising is dead today. It's not. Traditional buy this because it's/I'm pretty advertising will not die until we all become more mindful shoppers.

So how do we get from now to then? I have no idea, but I strongly suspect we do so much more slowly than I see Hugh or Kathy suggesting. I see them both teaching the teachers of this new education-based economy, but who is teaching the students? That's the harder part because students are good at distracting. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter, they say. Before you know it, you've condensed your out-teaching plan down to a pill form, available at their local Walmart in a variety of shiny colors.

But really, I'm optimistic.

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