Marketing Punditry Malcompetence

I have trouble mustering the anger at marketing pundits that Dave Rogers so often can. Not only would it be incredibly awkward, as I work at an advertising agency, but I just don't think marketing is the problem. I'm not sure what exactly the problem is, but I think marketing is just a symptom. And punditry about marketing is further a symptom of a symptom. Marketing pundits are no more marketers than political pundits are politicians.

That said, when I read Seth Godin saying Marketing, at its core, is about teaching somebody something that they didn't know, I can't help but get a bit upset. He's either blatantly lying or he has no idea what he's talking about. Let's just call it malcomptence.

Marketing, at its core, is about selling something. That it occasionally teaches in the process is a nice unintended consequence, but how anyone could really believe education is the core of marketing long enough to type the sentence is beyond me. Back when he was actually a marketer, Seth Godin wrote Marketing is a contest for people's attention. That at least has some relation to reality. Education also involves getting people's attention. But so does electroshock therapy. No one makes a living saying nonsense like "Marketing, at it's core, is electroshock therapy."

 
 
 
I wonder how you sell something without teaching someone about it? Teaching them that it's better, or cheaper, or will give them joy? "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog" is still teaching.
 
 
 
 
How do you sell something without teaching? You lie to them. It's the title of your book.

If we're going to play the linguistic relativism game, "buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog" is still electroshock therapy. Whenever we communicate with someone, electrons are moving between us. So marketing is electroshock therapy, right?
 
 
 
 
Education also involves getting people's attention. But so does electroshock therapy. No one makes a living saying nonsense like "Marketing, at it's core, is electroshock therapy."

I love the quote… it's pretty. But I think you may be getting a wee bit reductionist. Marketing is like any other discipline… there are many approaches and they don't all boil down to the same thing in the end.

I mean, hey, most of the formal education I was subjected to utterly failed to get my attention… sort of why I dropped out of college and went for a gonzo, exciting education in the real world. There were days in class when I might have prefered electroshock just to spice things up.

For that matter, unfiltered truth can be a gnarly beast with gnashing teeth and scathing claws… the uncritical mind just kind of goes into shock when cornered by it. Is that any kinder than education, torture or advertising? Those who would shoot at the messenger, or decry that marketing is some unfair attempt at mind control are missing the point entirely.

You write: "I just don't think marketing is the problem. I'm not sure what exactly the problem is, but I think marketing is just a symptom." I can tell you what the problem is- It's people who want easy answers, don't do their own research, fail to evaluate the data and then blame someone else for pointing them down a road that didn't satisfy. I'm interested in solutions, not problems. I'm even less interested in people who think there might be a problem but aren't sure what it is.

Blame-shifting for decisions made without educating oneself as to all the available options is not the kind of failing that can be laid at the feet of anyone but the consumer themselves.
 
 
 
 
So john, the problem is people who want easy answers, but you're not interested in people who don't have easy answers?
 
 
 
 
No, not exactly, Scott. But kind of.

I don't think you can solve a problem that you can't define. Where would you start? Questions are valuable. Answers are valuable. Vague intuitions are only valuable when they at least *lead* to a question.

"Marketing has a problem" is a statement that gives no one any room to suggest a solution.

"The problem with marketing is X" is a statement that can be discussed and acted upon.

When I reference people who want easy answers, I'm not talking so much about you as the audience for content from marketers… If people are unhappy with the product marketers make, then it's on the shoulders of the audience to change the channel. Marketing would cease to exist if the audience disappeared. Problem solved. Why do I avoid commercial radio like the plague? Because the ads are so poorly executed. If they were at least entertaining or informative, I'd have a higher tolerance.

Ads are, at the core of their existence, an easy answer… they're a suggestion that product X is the solution to a consumer's problem (Q: "I need a car" A: "Buy a Prius.") There's nothing wrong with that at all.

The problem is when the consumer reacts to an ad without doing their own research to see if the answer contained in the ad is the right answer for them. If I buy a car solely based on an ad I saw, I shouldn't get upset with the marketer if I don't like the product. *I'm* the one who bought it. I made the decision, spent the money and committed to the product. If I failed to test drive it, ask friends about their experience, read some reviews or testing reports, etc, I can't really blame someone else, can I? The same goes for any other product. I've almost never bought something based solely on advertising… I like to get a little more unbiased (or differently biased) info first.

Part of what makes the current web 2.0 hype exciting is the idea that people are participating more actively in *creating* content as well as consuming it. I think that's a stellar solution to the problem you're obliquely referring to. I doubt that advertising and marketing are going to disappear, but they will have more competition from the peanut gallery. Seth's ideas of using trust, education, stories and word of mouth to market products are likely to be the winning strategy for reaching consumers who *do* want to buy things through a more educated and transparent process.

The audience that's happy to shell out money based on an impulse is probably going to continue to mostly get what they deserve. It's a problem, but it's really their problem isn't it?
 
 
 
 
I don't think you can solve a problem that you can't define.

The only problem I'm trying to solve here is anyone getting confused that marketing and education are the same thing. I'm not looking to fix the American culture of overconsumption or otherwise boil the ocean right now.

Vague intuitions

I spent a year working as a teacher. I now work in an advertising agency. I like to think I have a little more than a vague intuition that what I was doing as a teacher was not what we are doing at the advertising agency. But I don't feel much need to explain the differences in detail. The dictionary agrees with me. I think the onus is on Seth to explain why the dictionary is wrong. But I don't think he really believes it is. I think he's just saying "marketing is education" because he wishes it were true.

"Marketing has a problem" is a statement that gives no one any room to suggest a solution.

Who are you quoting there? Not me. I never said that.

Seth's ideas of using trust, education, stories and word of mouth to market products are likely to be the winning strategy for reaching consumers who *do* want to buy things through a more educated and transparent process.

Great. If Seth wants marketing to be more like education, he should say he wants marketing to be more like education. He didn't say that. He said marketing is education. I'm saying it's not, everyone knows it's not, and he should stop saying it is because he's making himself look malcompetent.

It's a problem, but it's really their problem isn't it?

Would that it were. When you over-eat yourself into an obese diabetic coma, my health insurance premiums go up. But that really has nothing to do with what marketing is. Marketing is selling things. If you want it to be something else, go make it something else. Don't just say it's something else.
 
 
 
 
I'm gonna stop after this reply, because I suspect you're taking both Seth's philosophy and my comments more personally than need be. It's fine by me if we disagree, and hey, that's what makes the world interesting.

The only problem I'm trying to solve here is anyone getting confused
that marketing and education are the same thing.


I probably never would have given you a hard time if you'd led with that statement, instead of the one where you alluded to a problem and then said "I'm not sure what exactly
the problem is, but I think marketing is just a symptom." You know what? I was being a bit pedantic, which is ironic since that's where I really took issue with your post.

I spent a year working as a teacher. I now work in an advertising
agency. I like to think I have a little more than a vague intuition
that what I was doing as a teacher was not what we are doing at the
advertising agency.


Maybe it's not the same thing where you work. That doesn't mean it's not the same anywhere. And I don't think Seth intended to suggest that all advertising is as educational as say, Harvard. Think back to when you were in school and tell me with a straight face that all the lessons were of excellent quality… come on, there are good teachers and bad, and most are in the middle somewhere.

Here's the thing… you apparently believe that there is such a thing as black and white. I don't. I believe that anything that tells me something I didn't know has educated me. Thus, I've had teachers who were rocks, sticks, corpses, guns, people, cats, advertisements, novels, movies, scars, cars, snowstorms, you name it.

If I learned, it taught. And of course, it's probably worth noting that one can be taught things which later turn out to be wrong.

The great novels are not "true," they're fiction, but they are taught in schools. Math is invisible and wholly fabricated, but it's internally consistent and useful so we trust it. No matter who dictated it, the bible was written by men… Do you see where I'm going with this? Because I also believe that all knowledge and learning are only useful when they work… That is, you and I can believe whatever we want to, but actually knowing something as truth is, to me, nearly impossible. There is only contingent truth, truth in context. And I can think of thousands of examples of "truths" that are both correct in context while totally contradicting one another. I can truthfully say something like "the price of steel going up is a bad thing" while a Chinese steel manufacturer can truthfully say it's a good thing. We're both right, in our own context.

I get the impression you believe in the educational system as a noble and glorious and sacred institution, which is fine. I see it as a dogma factory. But that's just me. I've always gotten my hackles up when anyone tells me that there is any kind of single truth in the world because I just don't see it… it's all gray to me.

Why can't something be both an ad and a lesson? To say that's impossible is utter foolishness. I've never seen a thing that couldn't be interpreted multiple ways. In fact, I make my living turning one thing into another all day. I take scrap metal and make sculpture or furniture or a firebowl out of a propane tank. It's still scrap metal. It's still a chair. It's still art. It's "d" all of the above.

Who are you quoting there? Not me. I never said that.

the quotes were intended to denote "saying," to distinguish the sentence that yeah, I made, from the discussion of said sentences. No, you didn't say that. They were examples, contrived to illustrate my point about how to state a solvable problem.

He said marketing iseducation. I'm saying it's not, everyone knows it's not.

Okay, wrapping up my unfair and ambush-y rant:

To my mind, education is marketing much more thoroughly than marketing is education.

When we teach, we attempt to persuade, right? I get up in front of a classroom and profess ideas, beliefs or things that call themselves truths. How is that different from marketing? It's intellectual coercion, no matter how noble the intent. Anything other than a lab class is proselytizing, and lab classes are rigged (or at least, heavily directed).

A teacher provides cultural beliefs and contexts, history, science, math, art. None of these fields have ever been immune to reversal. Before Galileo, what was a geography lesson like? Before Einstein, how was physics taught? Years after free verse became the standard, how much contemporary poetry finds it's way into high school lit classes? Why the heck do we even still teach kid's how to rhyme (answer: rap music).

Anyway, if you're sure there's no way that marketing can educate I guess that's fine by me. But I'd hesitate. I'd think about it and wonder if ever in my life I had learned something I didn't know from a PSA, an ad, an infomercial or some other form of commercial message.

I wonder if what really rankles you is that the intent of marketing is commercial benefit… that any education content is thus impure in some way. But again, I'd argue that 90% of a public school education is no less self-interested. If we really had the best interests of students at heart, we'd teach them how to learn and evaluate for themselves and get out of the way. Handing them knowledge without making them search for it and experience it firsthand, is exactly what enables bad marketing to suckerpunch them in the long run and is why I feel that a lack of critical ability is what leads consumers to get exactly the marketing they deserve.
 
 
 
 
john, I'm not saying marketing has nothing to do with education. I'm just saying it is not "at it's core" education, which is what Seth said. I don't have to take the extreme opposite view of black and white to point out that he's wrong when he says dark gray is light gray.

Everything has something in common with everything else, but that doesn't make everything the same thing. You can call a cat a dog and explain how they are similar, but that doesn't make a cat a dog.

You're making a lot of assumptions about what I think. Most of them are wrong. I don't know who you're arguing with, but it's no longer me.
 
 
 
 
Okay. Maybe we're closer to the same page than it seemed. I had the impression you were taking the extreme view, but if not, apologies tendered.

PS: Thanks for fixing the html tags on my last comment.
 

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