Friday, July 05, 2013

The devil you know.


Somewhere out there in the celestial firmament, a mythic battle rages. Mythic because it’s endless, as in Sisyphus perpetually rolling that rock up a hill or Orion eternally hunting the skies for, I guess, dinner. But this battle is between two lesser gods, marketing gods, the ones known as David “the consumer is not an idiot” Ogilvy, and Claude “what can’t be measured doesn’t matter” Hopkins. At the moment, Hopkins seems to have Ogilvy pinned to the mat. It doesn’t look good.

This epic imagery may be the result of too much coffee (in turn, the result of Sweetie’s insomniac cat), but it is nonetheless apt. I dare you to read this and tell me you feel otherwise. If you’re too excited to click out and scan the article, I’ll summarize for you: apparently, the subject-line words that are most likely to result in consumers opening unsolicited emails include “new”. And “alert”. And “news”. And “video”. And “win”.  And it seems that 60.7% of consumers can’t resist the word “sale”. And these insights were gathered from 2.2 billion – BILLION – data points. According to this irrefutably scientific body of evidence, humanity is a steaming bolus of Pavlovian imbeciles.

And it was in this moment that I finally understood why brand marketers and direct marketers will forever remain two mutually distrusting solitudes. It’s not that they’re somehow competitors, as is commonly believed. It’s more existential than that. It’s more like an Enlightenment-style standoff between the chosen belief that man is inherently noble, and the opposing belief that he is inherently a hairless monkey with impulse control issues.

The good – and bad – news about this is that neither view will ever win out. People will always have weak moments in which we think maybe a Nigerian prince really does have our email address. And we will always have transcendental moments in which we hear a great Killers track and think maybe it’s time we went for a jog. It turns out humans are at once capable of both. Marketers just have to decide which shoulder they want to perch their brands on.

Right now, all the cool kids seem to want to be on Hopkins’ team. Which is fine, as long as we don’t make the mistake of thinking the game is over. The only way that will happen is if there are no marketers left to believe in their customers’ better selves. And if that day were to come, we might be surprised at just who ends up pinned to the mat.

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