Sunday, 15 February 2015

There is no God (in) digital marketing

I once joked that this blog is a Godin-free zone, a British kind of joke I got from a plaque at Porter's Pie restaurant in London's Convent Garden. There used to be a plaque saying something like: "This is a Michael Winner's-free restaurant". The late Michael Winner became famous for some excruciatingly bad insurance ads - so bad they were good and raised the profile of a brand - but he was actually a film director (he directed a good Agatha Christie's adaptation among others) and a hard-to-please restaurant reviewer/customer to put it mildly. Hence the restaurant's plaque.

My statement then and now has nothing to do with Seth Godin's marketing expertise, it's more about sickly sycophants who keep posting his quotes as if he were God giving us marketing commandments. As I said to my digital marketing students on Friday, I believe there is no real expert in digital marketing. Take note, digital marketing, not traditional marketing. Digital marketing is like quicksand, always shifting and sometimes gobbling up people and ideas. There is no guarantee a campaign will work, no matter how much it has been researched, no matter how many marketing boffins have poured in their genius to make it succeed. Nothing is right or wrong in marketing. It became apparent to me when a fellow copywriter retweeted an article in the Guardian about the TV comedy Nathan Barley, in particular the episode where an earnest journalist writes about The Rise of the Idiots. The Guardian said the TV series was prophetic, anticipating Shoreditch's cool army of media people and creatives. Shoreditch is an area in East London quite close to the Golden Square Mile (the City, traditional financial heart of London). I used to live a 15-minute walk away from Shoreditch for several years and saw all this trendiness happen. The area is now renown as a media and arty hub. Rents have rocketed, expelling the original trendsetters and small operators. Little me, at the time a journalist, got shifted, along them, to Walthamstow, E17. That's where the small creative fish headed to. There we set up our own Arts Club, a creative hub that originated a successful Arts Trail among other local initiatives. The Village area became cool, it was regularly featured in Time Out. Estate agents rubbed their hands at the rising property prices. But let's move back to marketing.

If you watch the embedded video, you can see that these people now exist for real and are the darlings of B2C social media. Going for the viral jugular often means creating crazy, silly stuff and whether you are a real or a faux idiot, a professional with strict integrity or a sell-out, that's what the mass market wants more of. I call it inspired idiocy. That's how cool brands are made. I am not criticising here or holding the moral high ground. If I am after high-brow culture, I read a book or go to an art exhibition. Still there are plenty of marketing pros who are cultural snobs. There is nothing wrong with popular culture. Do you know that staff at The Sun are Oxbridge educated? You have to be clever to create puns and engaging wordplay. There are intelligence and creativity behind this kind of idiocy. And if you watch the whole episode the video has been taken from and reflect about it, who is the hero? I am afraid it's not the idealistic, high-brow journalist who is a miserable sod. Nathan, the "idiot", is the real hero, eager to share his office space and resources - albeit to an attractive female - and a marketing genius of the viral variety. I am not saying I like his habit of tormenting poor Pingu, his office assistant, though.

So repeat after me, there is no real expert in digital marketing, we are all learning and holding on with white knuckles to the fast and furious rollercoaster that is web marketing.

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