Is All Marketing Bullshit?

I was talking to some young writer a few days ago. I did not know he was a writer until he said that he was working on a big philosophical essay novel. Well, not exactly a little undertaking, I thought. He was talking like one of these young intellectuals who do not seem to like much of the modern world, and when I ironically argued that with those ideas it would be difficult to find a publisher, he said he was thinking of resorting to self publishing and social media; “All you need is a bit a marketing”, I went, but my casual remark was met with a stern display of moralistic disapproval: “This thing, marketing, this ideology of our age, this is what I am fighting against, all this relativism … “. I had never been myself a marketing enthusiast, but this utter rejection of the spirit of marketing seemed to me to be a bit at odds with his legitime desire to reach out for people so that they could acquainted with his intellectual work.

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For the adepts, marketing is a religion. They are the believers, they are the ones who believe that in modern day business marketing is just about everything, those who praise the fortunes that can be made with marketing. Generally it is people with a positive can-do attitude. To outsiders, they may look like a sect, like followers adhering to a strict code and displaying strong committement to their values. They also seem to be likely to slightly overestimate the importance of what they do, as if they believed the message is everything, as if the object of the advertising was only of secondary importance, as if marketing alone could transform shite into gold.

And for others, marketing and the whole advertising business are absolute bullocks. They are of the firm conviction that lying is at the essence of all marketing and that marketing itself is little short of being the root of all evil of the economic realities of our world. They seem to believe that if a product is good, people would find it, buy it and spread the word for the intrisic merits of this product, without any need for marketing or advertising, because marketing is basically cheating and manipulating people.

Who is right? Both groups live in deception. Some believe that marketing is overpowerful, but there cannot be good enough marketing if your product is poor and people are going to find out; the others have an idealistic picture of the world, in that they appear to believe that all good in the world emerges sooner or later because of its own merits and nothing is else is needed. Both are mistaken, and both have some points. It reminds of the old philosophical controvery between “shape” and “substance”: some say that if you focus on shape you will have no substance, others that you can have all substance in the wolrd, but to what use if nobody is going to see your “shape”? The truth is, you cannot exclude one at the expense of the other.

No, being successful in marketing does not mean that “everything is possible”. The marketing enthusiasts do often display a particular mind frame, some unsettling characterists which you may find in cult leaders and in sects, their conviction might sometimes be naive and moving, but they might be right when they claim that there is no good product without good marketing. People need to be able to find the product you want to sell, people need to be able to find you. In his book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” the iconic marketing guru Al Ries said that, basically, “Marketing is never a battle of products. It is always a battle of perceptions”.

While some people behave like sales fanatics and think about selling all the time, some others seem to have an innate antipathy towards anything that is selling, as if everytime you are trying to sell something you would be required to lie and to sell a bit your soul. What if you are selling to people something that they just happen to need right now? Wouldn’t you be happy about it? Wouldn’t you make you feel like you have done something good for them? Indeed, while there might really be something noble about not wanting to sell stuff (just think of, historically, all the elites of the ancient world which despised commerce as an occupation unworthy of a nobleman), this attitude could come off, in our age of commerce, as a tad arrogant.

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Marketing and advertising are an inalienable part of the business reality. Because everybody is doing it, if you don’t do it you will intentionally harm yourself and your business and your product will simply not reach out to the potential customers. Certainly greed is bad if it the sole founding reason of your business, but what’s so despicable if you love what you and spread the word about it, trying to find people that might genuinely be interested in what you do? Al Ries warned us against the dangers of success, noting that success in business leads to arrogance, and from there the way to failure is guaranteed.

In reality, almost everything we do is an act of selling yourself, and to sell yourself, you need to market yourself, you are marketing yourself everytime you are talking about yourself, you are marketing yourself even when you are not talking about yourself, you are marketing yourself with your every action. It is true that there are people who are extremely uncomfortable with this aspect and who genuinely do not like to talk about themselves, or at least they say so, which means they are marketing themselves as honest modest people who don’t want to sell anything. You may not like the idea of marketing and selling yourself and having to persuade people to buy something they don’t really want or need, but actually there is nothing wrong with a bit of publicity.

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