July 10, 2013

Let The Fools Believe

I had a conversation with a few advertising friends the other night.

One of them was facing a situation I had seen before. She was about to make a new business presentation. The client was expecting that the presentation would include a considerable amount of social media.

The agency knew that the social media component was of little value and was substantially window dressing. It was there because it was expected, not because it was essential. It was there because, these day, if it's not there, you are considered to be either delinquent or retro. It was there because it is de rigueur and, consequently, you cannot afford to have the question raised about why it is not there.

This particular woman was suffering about this. She had a short amount of time to make her pitch and this social media recommendation was going to take much more time than it deserved. But it was also clear that the client in question was one of those naive believers in the miracle of social media.

I used to face problems like this frequently. Regular readers know I am highly skeptical of the magical power of social media, and also skeptical of the many supernatural powers of online advertising in general. And yet, I very rarely made a stink about it at the agency.

I learned early on that trying to talk people out of their religious beliefs is a waste of time, and is generally counter-productive. If you are dealing with a person who is reasonable, a logical argument is constructive. But if you are dealing with a true believer, a logical argument is pointless.

When clients would ask me what I thought I'd tell them the truth. But they almost never asked. True believers rarely do. Instead, they came fully loaded with zeal for their faith and I was not about to extinguish their zeal. It would only buy me trouble.

This is not just true of clients. It's also true of consumers. If consumers want to believe that during President's Day weekend they can get a better deal on a new car, then don't fight it. You're going to lose. Because I promise you, if you don't sell them a car that weekend someone else will.

JC Penney learned this the hard way. They tried to convince their customers that the old "biggest-sale-of-the-year-every-week" model of retailing is bullshit. But you know what? Their customers believed in the bullshit. The more Penney tried to wean them off it, the more they lost.

Faith appears in many guises. It is often irrational and preposterous. But it is always firmly held and best left alone.

There are many fights to be fought in the world of advertising. Fighting peoples' faith -- whether in their gods, their politics, or their media choices -- is a very high risk proposition, with a very low likelihood of success.

If they want to believe, let them believe.

And while you're killing time instead of working, be sure to read Top 10 Mistakes When Advertising To Grown-Ups 


George Tannenbaum said...

I've had many a meal like that.

bob hoffman said...

I'll bet you have

Jason Fox said...

The only way I've ever persuaded anyone to avoid unnecessary social media gambits is to outline the actual costs in time and money -- SM is too often like a free puppy. SM is just a tool like any other; one that should be used when useful and otherwise left alone.

Cecil B DeMille said...

When the Chief Creative Officer – who isn't creative – is convinced that shiny objects (social media) win business pitches, you inevitably end up with a pitch campaign that, if won, is doomed to fail miserably.

And people wonder why client tenure is at an all-time low. Along with agency leadership.

TCWriter said...

I have confronted clients with overwhelming evidence that the time and effort they're sinking into social media -- to the detriment of other, more-effective (and traditional) media -- isn't performing. But they can't get past the hype.

In one case, a solid small business client largely abandoned its successful email/ad/speaking program in favor of some social media pinhead's Facebook and Twitter programs.

Over the course of the year, sales plummeted, yet the pinhead (and the business owner) refused to budge. At eighteen months, the checks started bouncing, and I simply walked away.

I assume the social media pinhead found a new believer.

You often call out the biggest brands for the gullibility, but they're big enough to survive a great deal of stupidity. Much of the real damage done by social media's faux marketers is visited upon smaller businesses, many of which can little afford the hit.

Jim said...

"For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who
don't believe, no explanation is possible." - Joseph Dunninger

Nathan Roth said...

Ouch. Sales tactics and social media don't mix very well. I hope he gets his email program back up on it's feet soon.

Brent said...

You say plenty of very smart things on this blog. This may be among the smartest.