October 29, 2014

Hypocrisy By Proxy

There is a horrible medical syndrome called Munchausen By Proxy. In it, a mentally ill parent invents or induces medical symptoms in a child to gain attention for herself (in 85% of cases it's a mother.)

Earlier this week, in a post called Munchausen by Proxy by Media Seth Godin compared Munchausen By Proxy to what our media does to viewers. According to Seth...
"...the media does this to us all the time... It started a century ago with the Spanish American War. Disasters sell newspapers. And a moment-by-moment crisis gooses cable ratings, and horrible surprises are reliable clickbait. The media rarely seeks out people or incidents that encourage us to be calm, rational or optimistic... 
Even when they're not actually causing unfortunate events, they're working to get us to believe that things are on the brink of disaster."
Seth's point is undeniably true. By turning events into "crises" the media draws attention to itself, and earns a nice little profit from the increased viewership/listenership/readership.

I would like to suggest that this is also a perfect description of what Seth and his pals in the marketing punditocracy have done for the past 10 years.

Since about 2004, the marketing establishment has been engaged in creating phony crises based on flimsy evidence, questionable assertions, and exaggerated claims:
  • the death of traditional advertising 
  • the death of television
  • the death of the "interruption model" 
  • the end of mass marketing
  • the enthusiasm of consumers for "interacting" with advertising
  • the miracle of social media
The "thought leaders" of the marketing industry are no less guilty of playing the hysteria card to buy themselves status (and consulting gigs) than the media are.

The more they can convince us that everything is changing -- and we need them to interpret the changes -- the longer they stay employed. And so they have created an avalanche of exaggerated claims and dire warnings that gain them attention and a nice little profit from the increased viewership/listenership/readership.

Creating alarm is just plain good strategy -- whether it's by the media or those who choose to criticize it.

Hysteria Central: Roll Call Of The Dead
Broadcasting Is Dead: Here
Strategy, Ideas, Marketing, and Management Are Dead: Here 
Television Is Dead: Here
Advertising Is Dead: Here
Ad Campaigns Are Dead: Here
Copywriters Are Dead: Here
Marketing Is Dead: Here


Hitesh Sahni said...

Totally agree with you. Although I would not assume that all marketing pundits do it knowingly. They may be so passionate about what they do that everything else seems like getting obsolete, and the fact that there are so many of them leaves a big impact.

Richard said...

I've met a few copywriters I wish were dead. Or "ded" as they would sometimes write it, until I righted them. But agree - there's very little employment out of continually declaring that nothing much has changed. The only problem with that is that, actually, nothing much has changed. Not as often as they would like you to think, anyway. Plus ca change....

George Tannenbaum said...

I think we should also consider my twist on Veblen. He had the Theory of the Leisure Class. Today we have the Leisure of the Theory Class. A whole strata of agency people who do nothing but blow smoke.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

It's the difference between being oppressed and being manipulated. Marketers accept the "bad news" delivered by certain people as fact and that things must change or be new, when in fact they're simply being sold something. Something awful.

Tom said...

The hardest thing in the world right now is navigating the subtleties of what is changing and what is staying the same.

Generally a lot more is the same than what most modern marketeers have us believe, but the importance of the few things that are changing and the new opportunities are vast.

Unfortunately a lot of the next gen ad people are know nothings but with their 10k twitter followers get the air time at SXSW and the next generation of marketers believe their nonsense. But we've also a lot of older advertising types who stubbornly refuse to understand enough of the new to challenge these people and have learned to just duck down.

What we need are people who get both worlds and have credibility, I see few of those types around.

Jeff Shubert said...

Making the past irrelevant in marketing today and creating phony crises diverts attention away from what the kids don't know and eliminates any reason to learn it.

Tia Dobi said...

May we bring Claude Hopkins, Eugene Schwartz, John Caples and David Ogilvy back from the dead, thank you.

dmarti said...

I've been following this "X is dead" trend for quite a while, and I was guilty of some of it myself in the 1990s. (what? show me someone who learned web stuff in the 1990s and didn't say a few wacky things.) Some basic survival strategies until the current round of BS settles down: http://zgp.org/~dmarti/business/what-brands-can-do-now/

Adrian Langford said...

Ironically I was sent this link today. Included every tired fallacy and conference platform cliché going in the brave new marketing world:


Shanghai61 said...


Mark Twain put it more succinctly "We don't hold beliefs. Beliefs hold us."

Jeffrey Summers said...

Go George!

BrendaKilgour said...

I heard a great quote on NPR yesterday from someone who observes advertising sales:

"If TV is dead like they say, then it's being buried in money."

Lewis LaLanne - NoteTakingNerd said...

Agreed, Shanghai.

Timm said...

Keep at it Bob. If we believed everything every expert told us, in marketing everything is dead. The problem is, it isn't.

The Sky Is Falling! said...

I'm SO glad you called out Godin on this.

G said...

"I first hear about the death of baseball one
night last December. A friend of mine, a syndicated sports columnist, called me
after eleven o’clock and broke the news. “Hey,” he said, “have you seen the
crowds at the Jets’ games lately? Unbelievable! It’s exactly like the old days
at Ebbets Field. Pro football is the thing, from now on. Baseball is finished
in this country. Dead.” He sounded so sure of himself that I almost looked for
the obituary in the Times the next morning. (“Pastime, National, 99; after a
lingering illness. Remains on view at Cooperstown, N.Y.”)

Though somewhat
exaggerated, my friend’s prediction proved to be a highly popular one. In the
next three or four months, the negative prognosis was confirmed by resident
diagnosticians representing most of the daily press, the magazines, and the
networks, and even by some foreign specialists from clinics like the New
Republic and the Wall Street Journal . All visited the bedside and came away
shaking their heads. Baseball was sinking. Even if the old gent made it through
until April and the warmer weather, his expectations were minimal— lonely
wheelchair afternoons on the back porch, gruel and antibiotics, and the sad
little overexcitement of his one- hundredth birthday in July.

I haven’t run into
my dour friend at any ball games this summer, but I doubt whether the heavy
crowds and noisy excitement of the current season, which is now well into its
second half, would change his mind. The idea of the imminent demise of baseball
has caught on, and those who cling to it (and they are numerous) seem to have
their eyes on the runes instead of that leaping corpse."

Roger Angell
August 1969

Read this passage the other day and felt:

1) same shit, different industry
2) the more things change, the more they stay the same
3) that Bob could have written that piece

InLikeFlint said...

I have enjoyed your blog for some time and I would love to have heard your talk in London tomorrow - unfortunately it is members only...

KJ said...

This is interesting. While I respect Seth Godin he's been beating this drum for too long.

I watched Seth speak at a Google Engage event last year. His advice was to stop doing all forms of traditional marketing and focus on "inbound marketing."

You don't have to turn over too many rocks to figure out this is a bad strategy. The channel is saturated, overly competitive, and a has an unappealing "winners take all" attribute...The top 2-3 search results get all the traffic.

While listening to Seth's bad advice I couldn't help but think of the ten biggest, most successful companies in the industry...Not many of them employ Seth's recommended strategies.

In fact, these success stories do precisely what he attempted to dissuade the audience from doing—what he calls "interruption marketing."

I suppose this is self-serving...Tell em' to do what clearly doesn't work, and they'll continue to buy your books, read your blog and look for that life-line that pulls em' out of the perpetual cycle of failure.