April 26, 2017

Making Marketers Uncomfortable

When I am finished speaking at a conference or advertising event people often ask me how I can be so sure I'm right and other people people are wrong.

The answer is, I'm not.

I spent 41 years in the agency business. I worked on some very big brands including McDonald's, Toyota, Bank of America, AT&T and others. And I had a pretty successful career and did some reasonably successful work.

But that doesn't make me sure of anything. One thing I learned about advertising is that when you're trying to anticipate human behavior -- which is what marketers and advertisers do -- there are no sure things. All there are are likelihoods and probabilities.

This is why I am highly skeptical about what I hear and read from advertising and marketing experts these days. Particularly those of the digital stripe.

They tend to be awfully sure of themselves and very dismissive of those who disagree with them. They also tend to have a lot more opinions than experience.

It is certainly possible that they are brighter than I am and have more insight into consumer behavior. But, to be honest here, I really don't think so.

I've been asked to do a lot of interviews lately (it probably has something to do with the shit-storm over online advertising that the last six months has produced and my sudden promotion from idiot to genius.) Sooner or later, the interviewer usually gets around to this question: Why do you write your blog?

It's a good question for someone who's been out of the agency business for four years and is supposed to be quietly retired and planting tulips or something.

And as I think about it, it becomes pretty clear why I continue to do this. I believe we marketers  think we know a lot of things that we don't really know. I think we do a lot of faking. I know I certainly did, and I don't think the average marketing person is that much smarter than me.

I think it's important that we have more humility and understand that there's a lot about human economic behavior that we don't understand. I like to point that out. I like to find the contradictions and expose the weak points and the phonies.

I see my job as making marketers uncomfortable.  It doesn't make me popular, but I hope it heartens some people who feel the same way I do.

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