Friday, November 01, 2013

The Kids Are Alright.

When I speak to a business school audience, I expect ambivalence. It’s not that I think they won’t be engaged; you’ll rarely find an audience more so. Nor is it that I think they’ll resist what they’re hearing; they want to hear everything, perhaps more than they ever will again. No, the ambivalence is more fundamental than that. Today’s student of marketing wonders what she’s got herself into, wonders if it’s even going to be a legitimate way to make a living (at one school I visited, a faculty member estimated that half his students thought it was not, if you can imagine). I enjoy trying to change their minds. I love the raised eyebrows when I tell them that a world without branded marketing is a world without choice, and in a world without choice, a consumer would be powerless. The transformative quality of that little piece of logic tends to elevate everybody’s mood long enough, at least, to survive the post-presentation networking session.

And that’s kind of how it went this week when I was invited to speak to the marketing society at a university just outside Toronto. In fact, I’d almost got away clean when a young man intercepted me with a nagging worry about his chosen path. “How,” he said (paraphrasing here), “can I be a marketer without having to resort to invented needs to sell my product?” Axe was the brand he used as an example to make his point, but they are legion. From smelly armpits to clumpy mascara to a patchy lawn, there’s no doubt that a certain sort of marketer depends on making us feel self-conscious in order to make the cash register ring. He didn’t want to do that.

This question was a first for me, so I don’t think I gave him the most reassuringly polished answer. I ended up thinking about it all the way back to the city before clarity finally came. Hopefully you’re out there somewhere, dude… because here is the answer you deserved:

First, don’t. Don’t work for someone who makes you feel ethically uncomfortable. Trust me when I tell you that the more energy you have to spend in your career overcoming cognitive dissonance, the faster that career is going to eat you alive. There is no standard playbook for this, either. Deciding what you stand for is your lonely task, and the price of living by it will be yours alone to pay.

Second, don’t make the arrogant mistake of thinking that consumers are stupid. They are not. Provided that its product is legal, safe and truthfully presented, a prospering business means that someone sees value in it. Never put yourself above that.

Finally, remember that the way people spend their money creates the kind of world we all have to live in. The choice of a brand can – should – be about more than getting the ‘best’ product, or even whether you really need it. It should also be a vote for a certain kind of corporate behavior. Marketing today is far more about who made a thing than about the thing itself. There’s great power in that, because it makes consumers the conscience of the system rather than just being seekers of value. And it makes trust the only capital that really counts. That’s why marketing is important work, no matter what all those No Logoists with their humanities undergrads might be telling you.

Anyway, that’s what I would have said, if I’d been quicker on the draw. Thanks for asking. And thanks for being so worried about it… that means you’re going to be great at this job, and any marketer you choose to work for will be lucky to have you.

Image used under license from The Cartoon Bank


Arjun shinde said...

Nice post! I liked your blog very much. I usually find out some nice blogs to read it. Glad i found your blog. One of the good sentence i liked by your article is I tell them that a world without branded marketing is a world without choice. I agree with you. Brand marketing is very important nowadays. If any company want to create his brand, Branding company helps them utterly.

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