Once about every couple of years, marketing or advertising is pronounced dead, usually because of automation or the Internet or some other change vector everyone could see coming from a mile away.
This time feels different, though. Maybe it’s all the marketers who’ve now been laid off, even though they thought their jobs were safer than those of the restaurant workers, bartenders, and rideshare drivers they count on.
Or maybe it’s all the casualties, people who’ve actually died from coronavirus. If you’re a marketing professional of a certain age, you probably know one personally. If so, I’m sorry for your loss.
Some have said this pandemic is Mother Nature’s way of sending humans to our rooms to think about what we’ve built. I think there’s some truth to that and I think it goes double for marketers.
The standard drill for marketers is to drink a venti triple latte with oat milk, get pumped up about how great their product is, and then try to sell it through their channel of choice. But they don’t really believe it’s great. That’s why the latte’s there.
Steve Jobs famously said when recruiting John Sculley to run Apple, “Do you want to sell sugar water or do you want to change the world?” But now, everyone selling sugar water actually thinks they are changing the world. That’s a problem—even in Silicon Valley, where not every company can be an Apple including, these days, Apple itself.
I encourage my fellow marketers to spend the next couple of months—I hope for all our sakes that it is just a couple of months—asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions about what kind of people we want to be, what kind of companies we want to work for, and what kind of legacies we want to leave.
As an example, Ally Bank just announced that it would not apply any customers’ stimulus checks to overdrafts. All customers will get the full amount to spend on luxuries like, you know, rent or food.
This is a branding initiative that actually means something. It’s not just empty words, catchy slogans, or hip cool imagery, although it might be promoted with those things.
I hope my colleagues, as they sit at home drinking wine and baking homemade sourdough cinnamon rolls, will take a moment to contemplate why Ally Bank would pull such a Miracle on 34th Street type move. And even more to the point, to consider why the whole system is so tied to quarterly earnings reports that long-term, customer-first thinking like this isn’t more common.
Then maybe we can have advertising, marketing, and branding that’s actually worth the effort it takes to produce.