Why ‘Humaning’ Is the New Marketing Mantra

Mondelēz promises humaning over marketing in their latest botched campaign

Source: Mondelēz

I can eat a ridiculous amount of Chips Ahoy cookies in one sitting. Most kids can do the same with Cadbury Creme Eggs. We all love spreading Philadelphia cream cheese on our bagels. But, Humaning just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. So much, that even a pack of Trident mint can’t save it.

Mondelēz doesn’t agree with me, or the entire world to be honest. It’s almost like a bot came up with this term and they decided to run it as a marketing campaign. Clearly enough, being a big firm doesn’t save you from being ridiculously stupid.

Like where this is going? I’m just getting started.

A Big Mistake

Earlier this month, Mondelez International, the parent company of all the snack brands mentioned above, came out with a bold message about how it was going to be serving customers from here on out. They wanted this message summed up in a single word, which could potentially be widely adopted by other, like-minded organizations.

“Humaning is a unique, consumer-centric approach to marketing that creates real, human connections with purpose, moving Mondelez beyond cautious, data-driven tactics, and uncovering what unites us all,” the company announced in a news release. “We are no longer marketing to consumers, but creating connections with humans.”

Have a quick look at their ad campaign below.

Source: YouTube

After watching that, it’s hard to know where to even begin with the term humaning, which is almost being used as a new verb by the global snack foods giant. A millennial voice at the end of the campaign video announces, “we need to stop marketing and start humaning.

No — I don’t know what that means. After watching the intro video, I’ll bet you are none the wiser either. I strongly suspect most of the marketers at Mondelēz are pretty confused about it too.

The Anticipated Response

Mondelēz is ridiculing itself for using six whole months to release this new philosophy/word as part of their latest marketing campaign.

Sadly, but wisely, Mondelēz turned off the comments section on its YouTube video. However, it has not been able to shut down social media, which has been filled with gleefully critical comments ever since humaning was launched last week.

Here are some examples.

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Most importantly, I must reiterate the last point in the first tweet. Usually, board members of a company view marketing teams as a pretty add on, nice to have. Although I may have little experience working with companies the size of Mondelēz, this sort of marketing nonsense is beyond acceptable.

The backlash on social media even further led to a feature story in The New York Times about the general tendency in marketing circles to fall in love with their own created buzzwords.

The Mondelēz CMO, Martin Renaud, was forced to acknowledge the potentially cringe-worthy nature of humaning, even if the brand’s intentions were good ones. However, he defended the approach by challenging people to think deeper about the word.

“I would like an invitation to talk about this deeper,” Renaud said. “I hope the criticism is more, ‘Let’s understand what they meant by that and grow together.’ I am so happy to learn from others. It is a two-way conversation I would love to have.”

Remember the last sentence from his quote.

Being a marketer myself, I can truly confirm that marketers like nothing better than figuring out ways to avoid saying out loud that they are primarily in the business of disrupting people from whatever they are doing to try and focus their attention on what we are selling.

The Marketing BS Theory

Understandably, our whole industry is knee-deep in dealing with such stuff, but to make it into the marketing BS hall-of-fame you need to have done something special.

There are three major factors that need to take place for total marketing BS to be achievable, thanks to extensive research on my part.

  1. Out of touch with the world or deluded
  2. Earnest to a point where you don’t see any flaws
  3. Ultimate slice of ego to pull it off

Let’s break this down, one by one.

1. Out of touch with the world or deluded

First, you need to have a slightly deluded outlook. You need to be so obsessed with your work, that any exposure to reality is impossible. Only then can true marketing BS occur, free from the gravitational pull of people and their everyday take on things.

For example, Mondelēz could have just had one focus group session with just five random consumers to reveal humaning was an absolute disaster and has nothing to do with buying a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. Ironically, they called it humaning with no actual human (customer) input on it.

2. Earnest to a point where you don’t see any flaws

Second, you have to be extremely earnest, stubborn to the point that you are unable to see what you have just done is absolute trash. You may argue that everyone tends to get a bit up themselves every now and again. However, most of us have friends or colleagues who are able to point us in the right direction.

However, in Mondelēz’s case, they seem to have the most earnest marketers among us. Clearly, for them, any rejection is a signal that they are being halted on the path to progress and only they can see it through.

3. Ultimate slice of ego to pull it off

Finally, you need a huge slice of ego to pull off proper, world-class marketing BS. It’s not good enough to be just confident. You need to really fancy yourself to come up with such a disastrous campaign.

Mondelēz not only thinks humaning makes some kind of sense but that it is a visionary new idea. Their CMO defending the campaign is a clear example of this statement. And to get to this stage, you not only need to be out of touch with consumers, be supremely earnest, but you also have to fancy your chances too.

Final Thoughts

This ad campaign serves as an ultimate example of a pointless exercise that cost money with no visible benefit and created an entirely new, unessential, made-up word.

To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to dig deeper by visiting the site Mondelēz created for Humaning, which, in fairness, goes into details about how it plans to carry out this approach both internally and externally, while also including specific customer segments like kids.

However, what’s not on the page? A way for anyone to offer direct feedback to Mondelēz. Remember Renaud’s earlier statement? If he really wants a two-way conversation, the company needs to do more than just talk at people.

After watching the ad campaign, here are my honest thoughts on it, addressed under three different angles.

  1. Technology: The ad suggests that marketing has slowly moved away or detached itself from everyday people because of the use of technology. However, the right use of marketing tools is only aimed at improving things like personalization and understanding customer sentiments.
  2. Customers: The term humaning suggests that Mondelēz has been doing the opposite until now, or that it previously saw consumers as this foreign entity that it was trying to manipulate. Kudos to them for launching humaning with no human (customer) feedback.
  3. Terminology: There’s something that feels slightly deceptive about humaning. Brands shouldn’t have to try to disguise the fact that they’re marketing to customers. Raising brand awareness and generating demand is an important part of the customer experience.

When brands do a great job of marketing, they don’t need a special word to describe it. Customers usually respond by giving the brand their business and being thanked for doing so. In other words, both sides continue to act as humans generally do.

Written by

Grad student writing about business, marketing, strategy, and other experiences from life | Find my words at nitishmenon.com

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