They say that word of mouth is the best form of marketing. Because someone is so happy with your product/service that they tell everyone they know, for free. Cos it helps, it does what it says.
But in the modern world, this principle isn’t enough to be relied on it seems. Instead, we have marketing: advertising, events, sponsorships, PR, spin and more. The global addiction to short term rewards has created a zombie monster that doesn’t care if you do NOT tell your friends, as long as you buy. And our post-truth social environment means that it really actually doesn’t seem to matter if the product doesn’t do what it claims. That’s just your opinion after all.
Therefore, shampoo adverts say the product makes your hair ‘look’ healthier. Scientifically they cannot claim that it really does, so they say, quite clearly, it gives the appearance. And we all buy it and wonder why our hair stays unhealthy. The first thing a hairdresser will tell you: wash your hair less. Use that product less. Let your hair do the work it can do naturally unmolested.
And that’s a benign example. Let’s not get started on body shaming, gender shaming, sexism, stereotyping, racial profiling and the rest of the modern marketer’s box of tricks.
It is as if, in the face of the enormity of the global market, companies feel that they just cannot be heard if they don’t shout louder and harder than everyone else. What you say isn’t really important: being heard is. Then you can sell. It doesn’t matter if only a fraction of that market buys, its global, its big, we’ll make money this quarter.
Whatever happened to the long tail? Being in it for the long haul? Our society killed it. We just don’t care. This Frankenstein’s monster of marketing is our own doing. Because we want everything newer, faster, more often and different all the time. A business cannot deliver that using standards of excellence. The must take shortcuts, they must just let you think you’re buying the best. They don’t have to deliver it.
Essentially, the world’s public is like a kid in a candy store: we cannot be trusted to do what’s in our own long-term interests. It’s a bit how anyone outside the US views Donald Trump, or people outside the UK view Brexit: the person who shouted the loudest won. Whether what they said made sense, was true, was realistic, was good for most people or not simply did not appear to matter.
This is a road that we have been heading down for some time as a culture. But it does bring us to a place where it is very hard to see a way forward. What values or ethics do you teach when the public so clearly doesn’t care about that anymore? What do you tell your children? Your employees, your police force, your customers?
Of course, this isn’t the fault of marketing. How things are currently marketed is no more than a symptom of the greater, global problem. How the current response can be changed is hard to see. As usual, we are left hoping young people will reject the current status quo and forge a new version of society.
But experience tells me that this hasn’t worked out so well before. The hippies, punks and ravers all significantly failed to stop this juggernaut with their overtly anti-establishment stances. They’re all paying mortgages and buying designer labels now too.
In the end, it’s got to start with us: you and me.