Give People Erections, They’ll Call You A Devil. Give People Cancer, They’ll Build You A Statue.
The other day, I published a post here on Medium in which I confessed to my past history as a spammer. I hesitated to publish the post because I worried people wouldn’t approve of the morally questionable marketing work I once did.
Instead, people praised me. The post got lots of attention, with the top highlight coming from this line:
For some reason if you send cold emails offering strangers a pill that’ll give them a better sex life, you’re on par with the antichrist; but if you send cold emails offering strangers yet another SaaS accounting platform, you’re on the cutting edge of marketing. Go figure.
Seeing so many people highlight that point made me wonder whether it deserves more exploration. It’s a strange paradox, right? Why is improving someone’s sex life a bad thing?
Before addressing those questions, let me introduce another confession about my sordid marketing past. I’ve done more than spam people with sex pill offers. In my 20 years of web marketing I’ve run campaigns for everything from diet supplements to payday loans to cannabis (where it’s legal, of course).
All of those industries sit at the periphery of what might be described as “mainstream.” Does my work helping people sell products in those industries make me a bad person? Possibly. I definitely wouldn’t argue it makes me a good person. But here’s the thing: none of those industries are anywhere close to as horrible as some of the mainstream industries we happily watch ads for every day.
Don’t believe me? Let’s start with the the biggest black eye in my marketing portfolio: adult videos.
That’s right… I’ve run marketing campaigns for pornos. Mind you, I wasn’t in a porno. I didn’t even watch the pornos I helped market (not because I was offended… just not my preferred… errrrr… genre?). But I’ve helped sell pornography to other people, which still means I’ve permanently secured my ticket on a one-way bullet train to Hell. But, before I speed off to Cabo San Lucifer, let me present a brief thought experiment.
What if, instead of running marketing campaigns for a a few niche adult video studios, I was actually a senior marketing VP at the Coca-Cola Company?
If I ran marketing campaigns for Coca-Cola, my son’s teacher would be inviting me to present at elementary school career day, other parents would be begging me to sponsor their kids’ little league teams, and I’d be the featured speaker at conferences around the world.
Plus… OMG… adorable polar bears!!!!!
No question, the world would be a much friendlier place to me if I sold Coke instead of another four-letter word that starts with C and has two other similar letters.
However, even if the rest of the world thought better of me for selling Coke, I wouldn’t feel good about myself because the simple truth is this: pornography gives people erections and is responsible for millions of orgasms; Coca-Cola gives people cancer and is responsible for millions of obese children.
Which would you feel better about selling?