September 27, 2010

The Religion Of Marketing

Societies go through cycles of tolerance and intolerance. We see this phenomenon most clearly in the areas of politics and religion.

The cycle is often magnified in highly stressed systems, like the old Soviet Union. There would be periods of Stalinism followed by periods of glasnost.

One of the interesting aspects of the phenomenon is that the most severe forms of intolerant orthodoxy are often imposed by former radicals. It is no great insight to note that people looking to overthrow oppression have an alarming tendency to become oppressors themselves. The Iranian revolution is about as perfect an example as you'll find.

It also happened in the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. In early America, the Puritans came to America to escape religious intolerance, only to institute their own brand.

For the first time in my experience, we are going through a period of unhealthy parochialism in advertising and marketing. It's hardly the kind of nasty oppression you find in political or religious fanaticism -- and the good news is that nobody is being guillotined or burnt at the stake -- but the bad news is that our new brand of orthodoxy has an uncomfortably low tolerance for dissent.

One has only to attend a conference on advertising or marketing to hear the same endless feedback loop of dogma repeated ad nauseum with virtually no dissenting opinions. And if you dare to challenge this orthodoxy in a public forum, like a blog (now who would be foolish enough to do that?) you'd better be ready for a barrage of vitriol from the defenders of the faith.

Why this should occur at this time is not surprising. The advertising industry is a highly stressed system. It has gone through a revolution. Not long ago it was an industry characterized by smallish, entrepreneurial organizations. Today it is an industry dominated by four or five enormous global corporate enterprises. Not long ago it was an industry run by craftspeople. Today it is an industry run by financiers.

New gods require new mythology.

The new orthodoxy is not good for the industry. But more importantly, it can be personally hazardous. It is a dangerous time to be a dissenter.

While a lot of what you see and hear on a daily basis may stimulate your gag reflex, my advice to you, gentle reader, is to remember that discretion is the better part of valor. The new high priests of marketing don't like wise guys.

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