The Embarrassment of Being a Marketer

This has not been a good week for marketers. Don’t get me wrong: I never expect to wake up and read a news piece about how wonderful marketers are and how they’re making the world a better place. But some weeks are worse than others, and this is one of them.

Between Pepsi, Nivea, Sony, and others producing absolutely tone-deaf and poorly thought-out campaigns, this is not a time where I expect my profession to be highly regarded. That perception of marketers is totally fair — I just wish that marketers, big and small, would try to raise the bar a little higher.

It’s not uncommon for some professions to be entirely reviled, whether or not they believe it to be deserving. I know there’s a lot that I’ve judged (like public relations, although mostly its terrible origins) and others that I’ve changed my mind on over time. Media portrayal, or just media headlines, do a lot to shape our opinions on whole industries.

I imagine everyone maintains high standards for their own professions, and encounters the same second-hand embarrassment when they see mistakes. When I hear bad radio ads, see a terrible billboard, or come across an abysmal campaign on social media, it triggers an emotional response that I imagine is how a slug feels when someone pours salt on it. When friends ask me, “What the hell were they thinking?”, I can usually explain the process of how these decisions are made, but I can never explain exactly why someone settled on such a bad idea.

Yesterday, I wrote an off-hand tweet about how tweeting anything remotely business related gets you a slew of useless followers:

Within a day, I had attracted 41 (and counting) self-identified business experts, social media gurus, growth hacking ninjas, and brand unicorns. The kinds of fun-loving people that you’d like to chat with about #brand #engagement until the cows come home.

Who are these people?

There’s a saying I like:

“The cobbler’s children are always the worst-shod”

The implication is that when you’re servicing other people’s problems, you can’t spend the same care servicing yourself. This is a prime example. For people that claim to be experts, I can’t imagine how they intend to accomplish anything by building an algorithm that automatically follows anyone that spews business jargon. I assume they want me to follow them back. I figure they hope that I’ll come to worship their “thought leadership” and ultimately pay them for something. I understand that by casting an extremely wide net, they might actually con someone into doing this. But they’re Nigerian princes in a Twitter sheep’s clothing, and it does nothing to help their supposed credibility.

So what am I asking to change? Honestly, a lot. As a profession, I think all marketers need to really consider the implications of their work. I think we need to use strategies and tactics that not only actually work, but encourage at least a modicum of respect from their audiences. I think we need to avoid leveraging fear, sex, and other exploitative motivations (like co-opting social justice causes.) I think we need to make decisions with a diverse group of stakeholders and with diverse audiences in mind. I think that’s a start.

I know I’m not going to be a world-changing champion with this cause. But if I get just one or two other marketers to think a little bit harder about the quality and approach of their work, that’s a start.

It’s not all bad. Sometimes we see really great campaigns that accomplish business goals and leave a good impression. Anyone can do it; it just takes a little more thought.

And even when it is bad, sometimes it still can put a smile on my face.

Alex is a digital marketer, community volunteer, and cat enthusiast living in Ottawa, Canada.

Alex is a digital marketer, community volunteer, and cat enthusiast living in Ottawa, Canada.