Sunday, February 1, 2009

Casting Spells and Illusions is Harder These Days

Marketing is a commercial religion but the commercial ratio behind it has feet of clay and so marketing continually faces problems. It is a religion in that it is a meaning making process, as Drewniany and Jewler (2008, pp 36-45) observe. Marketing creates an identity and negotiates its meaning and therefore its image with the target audience. Marketing breathes life into the image by giving a name and logo as its genesis (p 38). Its adaptive and transferable meaning is from the baptism of the tag line (p 39), color (p 40) and sound (p 42) from its creator.

Redemption for those of us who worship the image is through consumption rather than faith. Consumption builds jobs which leads to more consumption. It’s an easy religion. Sullivan (2008, p 4) notes that there is a paradox in it, though. Advertising that generates sales is a “parade of [idiocy]” and offensive to our humanness. Moreover, marketeers, the hired agents of the brand image, are the least-trusted people in the world today. Well almost, politicians are the absolute worst people in the public’s view. Sullivan (2008, p 6) suggests that following Bernbach’s paradigm can separate an agency from the procession of witless charlatans who come up with “Dude you’ve got a Dell” marketing.

Another general marketing problem may be forming. The Green movement may be a harbinger of a new social order that Jack Lessinger calls the Caring Conservers (see Lessinger, 1991, pp 148-160). This movement is disenchanted by a commercial world whose logic stops at efficient production and consumption. The feet of clay for this commercial world is its efficiency at any cost foundation. It results in an endless race to the bottom, the cheapest, the most exploitative and the most risky practices. Unseemly risk, whether sub-prime derivatives today or some future scandal, will prove its undoing.

Nike’s business aggression is a poster child for our commercial world. Yet even it suffered from its child labor exploitation scandal in Indonesia (see McCall, 1998 and Vogler, 1996). In addition to the inhuman working conditions in its plants, it was noted that Michael Jordan got a bigger annual check from Nike than all its factory workers and factory children combined. Marketing can’t be part of something like that and expect to be held in high regards.

If marketing is a frontman for a problematic process, it is merely a carnival barker for the commercial world and part of the problem too. IMC should use its communication relationships, including those to top management and shareholders to extend the commercial logic to include environmental and human rights thinking.

The final general marketing problem is Accountability. That dread word. Sullivan does not like it and calls it “useless left brain crap” (p 9). However, marketing has acted like a junkie in the boardroom, tin-cupping for more money without demonstrable value. Spiller and Baier (2005, p 13) note that traditional advertising is largely unaccountable. Weber (2007, pp 115-116) notes there is a convergence between what management wants and what marketing can deliver with new technology. If management wants to know ROI on paper towels in the bathrooms, they want to know ROI on marketing. Embracing more measurable media venues will help establish marketing’s value to the firm.

Drewniany, B and J Jewler (2008). Creative Strategy in Advertising. Wadsworth.

Lessinger, Jack (1991). Penturbia. SocioEconomics Press.

McCall, William (November 9, 1998). Nike Battles Backlash from Overseas Sweatshops. Image Marketing. Retrieved on January 17, 2009 from EBSCOHOST

New American (11/28/2005). Protecting gun makers from lawsuits. Retrieved on January 17, 2009 from

Spiller, Lisa and Martin Baier (2005). Contemporary Direct Marketing. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Sullivan, Luke (2008). Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. Adweek Media.

Vogler, I (January 31, 1996). U.S. Multinational Corporations in Indonesia. Retrived on January 18, 2009 from

Weber, Larry (2007). Marketing to the Social Web. John Wiley.

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