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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Sweet Boy, But Not Too Bright

Which one's the dumbest?

Just before another Easter, when I was seven, my dad decided it was time to level with me about the Easter Bunny. He was a psychologist and a responsible parent, after all, and thought I was old enough to know the truth, since I was evidently not figuring it out on my own. So he told me the truth, "Jeff, there is no Easter Bunny. I wish with all my heart that there was, but there isn't."

I was devastated. "But who colors and hides all those eggs?" I wailed.

My dad was a little worried about my density, "Well, obviously, it's your mom and me."

To make it up to me, for lying to me and shattering my childhood, he did suggest that he and I make it a tradition from then on to color and hide the eggs for my little sister (then 2). That assuaged me. And the prospect of being in on a conspiracy to pull a fast one on my sister (and set her up for a colossal trauma in a few years herself) was too much to resist.

I felt better after our man-to-man talk and said, "Well, at least there's still Santa Claus."

My dad thought (he later told me), "He's a sweet boy, but not too bright."

I wasn't. Or, at least, I was so self-deluding that I had the deft ability to wall off areas of illogic in my brain in order to hang on to beliefs that were vital to my sense of order in the world. It was, in fact, another two Christmasses before I could not escape the inevitable conclusion that if the Easter Bunny was my parents, so must Santa Claus be, too.

Me So Dumb

But think about it; giving up the Easter Bunny was easy. I mean just a bunch of colored, hard boiled eggs--and I didn't even like hard boiled eggs. But Santa meant loot. That was a much bigger delusional investment. Also, there was the forced realization that there wasn't really magic in the world, which is a shocking discovery for a seven year old. So I hung on to every last dumb belief, fighting to the last delusion.

And even after I finally admitted to myself that Santa was also my parents (to my dad's credit, he didn't feel it was necessary to have to have another man-to-man talk), I still hung on to the notion that  at least God was  real. God couldn't be my parents, right? That was just too dizzying a concept to cross that ontological chasm.

But that lasted only another thirty years or so--at least the notion of a God as described in religion, a kind of Santa in the Sky who causes football teams to win or lose bowl games, but has "His mysterious ways" when it comes to letting genocides happen. That God went the way of the Easter Bunny for me.

And then came my disillusion and eventual categorical rejection of my faith in the Republican Party. That just turned out to be my parents, too.

One by one, all of my childhood belief systems have fallen to the chain saw of logic--and facts.

Perception is Reality

This is an unbreakable rule of marketing (soon to be elaborated on in Cathey Armillas' and my forthcoming book, The Unbreakable Rules of Marketing: 9 1/2 Ways to Get People to Love You). Even when faced with incontrovertible facts, people--even people smarter than me--are bound by their preconceived beliefs. This extends right down to their commercial choices.

If they believe their Mac superior to any PC, even when it crashes a dozen times a day, that's a fact; it is superior to any PC. If they believe that tax holidays for the wealthy result in greater prosperity for all, that's a fact; even when the economy is in the toilet after ten years of tax holidays for the wealthy. And if they believe that taking their reusable shopping bags to the supermarket is saving the planet, that, too, is a fact. Planet saved.

It takes a Magnitude 9 Logic Quake to shake the foundations of those beliefs. Our walls are thick and high. So bring on the facts; make your best shot.

I don't think I'm as dumb today as I was at seven (though there are many who would weigh in on this), but I think even someone as astute and cynical as me is vulnerable to something as blatantly maudlin as a Pixar movie. I love those movies because they bring back for me the comforting feeling that magic is real, that the Easter Bunny comes in the night to hide colored eggs,  and that Santa magically comes on Christmas Eve to bring presents, and that God is up there listening to me and caring about me.

But I'm not too bright.