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Marketing Bad. Useful Good.

January 04, 2003

I received an envelope in the mail the other day proclaiming that “Opening this envelope could change your life!” I did what any rational–thinking person would do — I threw it in the recycling bin unopened.

It got me thinking though.

How easily words so salacious bounce off of those living in the modern age. Without a moment’s consideration we outright reject them as typical marketing cruft. This is what advertisers are doing to us; by continually bombarding us with messages designed to attract, stimulate, and captivate, we are becoming more and more desensitized to statements that should mean much more than the hollow, self–serving promises they do.

the job

Before Christmas, I worked on a job for a promotions company. While not technically a bait–and–switch campaign since they did make available the product advertised, the focus was to obscure the real reason anyone would visit the site by aggressively promoting their other (much more profitable) offer.

The job disgusted me. Going against everything I knew about good design, I was asked to confuse and agitate people by luring them away from the goal of their visit. And as it turns out, I did a great job of it, too. The term “selling out” keeps rattling around inside my head, but I try to justify that, as an employee, I can’t pick and choose my jobs. Somehow, the reasoning sounds a little forced.

Putting myself in a user role, I could envision doing two things if I came to a site like this one: I would rage at the flimsy marketing ploy and leave immediately, or I would persist and click on every damn thing until I found the product I originally intended on getting. Maybe I’m even in the majority, but it only takes a small percentage of side–tracked users buying the “upgraded” product to flag a campaign like this a complete success.

doing it right

The tactics I’ve mentioned are the stuff of a marketer’s dream; they serve their own needs beautifully, but the person winding up on the other end of the promotion is left feeling confused, numb, and maybe even cheated when they realize the reality delivered turns out to be far less enriching than what they were promised.

If only companies would try spending a fraction of the time and money used in promoting their product to make it better; we might start seeing some radical change in core business philsophy. If products were released that served an actual consumer need, instead of a company’s own need for more income, they might be surprised at how well they sell with little or no help on their own part.

Look at Google’s example — two guys started a company with the basic idea that they wouldn’t “be evil”. They built the better mousetrap, and quickly became a) popular and b) profitable. Resisting the urge to sell out that many companies succumb to, they have succeeded far beyond what anyone could have originally imagined after first seeing their spartan, unadorned site. Simply because they’re useful, relevant, and look after their user’s needs as well as their own.

If you build it, and build it well, you don’t need to spend half your income promoting your product. If people have a reason to buy it, and keep buying it, you will succeed.

service is where it’s at

Service over self: it’s a simple, quaint little philosophy that hearkens back to the day of the General Store clerk. Somehow in the haze of advertising, branding, and all the other -ings that get their own department in a modern company, we seem to have forgotten about it.

But apply it to today’s business climate? Funny enough, that might just work.


Reader Comments

April says:
January 06, 02h

No envelope with contents that could change your life would be shipped via bulk mail.

Dave says:
January 06, 04h

Did I mention it wasn’t even personally addressed? Cause it wasn’t.

April says:
January 06, 11h

Oh, it wasn’t addressed? That was a keeper, then. You should have realized that was your award letter informing you of your $50million in prize money. Ooh! Just like Joe Millionaire!