Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where is the Love?

Look into his eyes.
Does this guy love you?

Have you noticed how bad marketing has become in recent years? It's so desperate, so pathetic, so tiresome, so data-focused, so intrusive, so immediate-ROI driven, that it's hard to go through a day without having some slimy salesbot getting in your face while you are trying to read an article, enjoy a show, compose an e-mail, or watch an amusing video of an adorable cat playing with a laser pointer. Marketing now is like an annoying girlfriend who is constantly trying to shove food into your mouth.

What happened?

Like that annoying girlfriend, I think what happened is that there's no love any more. There's no love of the art of advertising, or of the products being advertised. There's no love of the customer; namely, you. You get the feeling that you're just a mark, a john, a datum waiting to be mined.

It used to be (and I'm dating myself sadly here) that marketing was entertaining and inventive. Marketing used to recognize that it was talking to squishy human beings, not datasets. Commercials tried to entertain you, as if apologizing for interrupting you. They begged your pardon with a joke. They didn't end with a Call-To-Action or an Ask-For-the-Sale. They charmed. They tried to get you to like their company, to want to do business with them. They demonstrated that they, in turn, liked you, as a person, not just a target market. They didn't have to ask for the sale. That was implicit in the fact that they were running an ad.

Marketers forgot to love. Now, like some boorish drunk in a bar, they dispense with the charm and just go directly for the sale, interrupting your deep conversation with a friend to belch into your face,"Tired of paying too much for car insurance?" No. Not particularly. Can you please leave us alone?

The norm in marketing in the 21st century is not to show love, not to entertain or be creative, but to go right for the data, the target market. That's what you are to them, a target. And they've got a gun aimed right between your eyes. Data-driven marketers act like they really know you because, in an unguarded moment of boredom, you happened to search for something silly and they captured that. So Amazon starts telling you that people who bought what you bought also bought this other dumb title, rubbing your face in an embarrassing purchase decision which you'd just as soon forget and lumping you in with every other adolescent who "likes" Transformers movies. Facebook has to tell everybody what song you're listening to, or alert the world every time you "like" something. Nothing is private. Even while composing this rant, Google keeps interrupting me to ask for feedback, or to advise me about exciting new features. Exciting to them. (Do you sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that these people have a very low bar for excitement?)

This is not love. It is the opposite. Marketers no longer love you, they love your debit card. You're just a datum to be mined.You're a predictable consumer, expected to do your part to fulfill their revenue expectations; like a cow who needs to be milked. Or harvested. Makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it?

Fortunately, this is not a universal thing. There is still a cadre of marketers who get that love is the essence. I went to a Starbucks this morning and ordered a vente iced coffee. They apologized when they realized they had run out of iced coffee and asked me if I'd wait five minutes while they brewed a fresh supply. I said, no, that's okay, I'd have iced tea instead. When I handed the barista my card, she pushed it away said that it was on her, and apologized again for disappointing me. This is love. This is marketing. This is brilliant. This is why, in spite of the disdain many coffee-puristas have for the mega-chain that is Starbucks, I remain loyal. They have my undying love because, again and again, Starbucks shows me (through their very human employees) that they love me, not because I'm just another customer, but because I'm another human being. Starbucks treats me like a person, not a datum.

That little gesture of generosity cost Starbucks $2.95. But it made them thousands in continued loyalty from me, wanting to return the love. But for all the thousands of other marketers who just need my credit card number, I have no love to give.

Here's a secret and an Unbreakable Rule of Marketing: If you get that marketing is all about love (and not sales or data), you'll subjugate all mankind.

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