Marketing Villains—The Fads and Campaigns We Love to Hate
We’ve talked about marketing heroes—now we talk about the villains. In this episode, we share some of the marketing fads and campaigns that have influenced society and our culture and affected marketing in ways that we find frustrating.
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About the Episode
In this episode, we take a break from sharing our marketing heroes to talk about some of our marketing villains, or the marketing fads and campaigns that we find frustrating.
Content mentioned in this episode:
It’s Only Quality Content if Google Says It Is
Marketing Heroes—Who’s Shaped Your World View?
Marketing Heroes—Who’s Shaped Your World View? Part 2
Jason Mlicki: All right, Jeff, so Batman had the Joker, the Avengers have Thanos, so I have to mention the Avengers. In our recent episodes we’ve been talking about marketing heroes. So today we are going to dig into marketing villains, the dark side of marketing.
Jeff McKay: And Jason’s true geek comes through.
Jason Mlicki: Well, my son has just completed a 25 movie marathon on Avengers over the course of the summer. So I know a lot about those guys right now.
Jeff McKay: Oh, my gosh, poor kid. But, I guess kids need stuff like that.
Jason Mlicki: So, do you want to go first?
Jeff McKay: Never, and miss an opportunity to beat you up for what you say. Uh-uh (negative).
Jason Mlicki: All right, so I’ve got a pretty long list of villains here. I guess, maybe before I actually do that, I’ll take a step back. I looked at this under the lens, a very broad lens of just maybe things that have influenced our society or influenced our culture or affected marketing in ways that I’ve either found maybe frustrating or annoying.
Sometimes some of these things are actually incredibly successful marketing initiatives or incredibly successful marketing campaigns. But at some point they jumped the shark and became this annoying thing that we now deal with as a result. So my first one falls into that category.
So my first one, I am going to call out an agency in LA named RPA. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this agency. I was not. I had to do some digging to find them. You ever heard of these guys?
Jeff McKay: No.
Jason Mlicki: Okay. Well, these guys, I believe I could be entirely wrong, so if I am wrong, I apologize for picking on them. Are the agency that coined the Farmers Insurance audio tag that “We are farmers, bah bah bah bah bah bah bah.” That is so incredibly annoying. It drives me crazy.
It drives me crazy because it actually, it doesn’t say anything. It just says, “We are Farmers, bah bah bah bah bah bah bah.” But everybody can remember that little bah bah bah bah bah thing. I’ll tell a quick story to say why this drives me crazy. And it’s so embedded in the consumer psyche, it’s unbelievable to me how successful this tagline is. And how really meaningless it is.
So my kids do this program in their school, there’s a couple layers to this program, I’ll summarize it real quick. But in fifth grade they study a culture and they have to create a product that would be authentic to that culture. And then at a school-wide Chautauqua they come up with like a little advertisement to present their product to the school and encourage people come and check it out or buy it. So, it’s like this multilayered experience for them.
And I kid you not, of all these kids getting up there and making this demonstration, I’ll bet you a third of them had done some satirical takeoff on that Farmer’s audio tag. So it was just mind blowing how successful that tagline is, and how it doesn’t say anything. So that’s my go on number one.
Jeff McKay: Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.
Jason Mlicki: How could you have seen that one coming?
Jeff McKay: Oh, God.
Jason Mlicki: Now, I will say, on the flip side of that, the one thing that it really dives into is, is something that I do think has been entirely lost for a lot of today’s generation of marketers, which is just the power of audio tags. I mean they are so incredibly powerful, because they do stay inside your head and they do linger for so long. And they can have such an impact on your memorability of a brand and what it does or, or doesn’t do.
It’s a really powerful old world advertising tactic that I just don’t think gets leveraged as much today as it used to be. Which is why when agencies do get them right, in this case they did get it right, because obviously it’s really working for them, from a memorability standpoint, it becomes incredibly annoying.
Jeff McKay: Well, what’s cool about that ad series is I think it’s incredibly original. You can’t help but remember some of these real claims that they’re sharing, their spokesman is an Oscar winning actor now. They had gotten him before he got the Oscar. But it is memorable and that sound is associated with them.
I couldn’t agree more that memorable sound, think of the Intel inside is another one that our people are probably listened to. But they have very limited applicability in professional services, because those are audio. They require a voluminous amount of advertising, whether that’s on radio or television, that most professional services firms just can’t sustain or never would. But I think it’s a good villain. It’s a good villain.
So, we would probably tell the audience villain is a little overstated. And what we will not do is call out specific people for behaviors per se.
Jason Mlicki: I kind of just did that, didn’t I?
Jeff McKay: Yeah.
Jason Mlicki: But, again, I tried to couch it under the context of the ad annoys me, but I have to commend them because it’s really successful, and they did a great job. So I’m picking on them. I’m also saying, “Hey, in a way, when you’ve made something so pervasive that it gets to the point of annoyance, then you’ve clearly struck creative gold.” So that’s worth something to say.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. So, having said that, listeners, our villains are not bad people. And if we do mention a name, they may represent a category, not necessarily themselves. So that’s important to point out. We don’t want to get in trouble. But having said that, that never stopped us before, did it?
Jason Mlicki: No.
Jeff McKay: All right, so it’s my turn?
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: Okay. Villain number one top of my charts is the monopolist known as Google. I hate Google, but I love Google.
Jason Mlicki: Tell me more.
Jeff McKay: Google is a monopoly in its truest sense. It controls so much of the online experience. And it is a tool and a nemesis for I think marketers. You have written some really good stuff on this, Jason, at Rattleback, about the industry leaders are who Google say are the industry leaders. The old rankings of firms that appear in city business journals no longer are the true arbiters of rank that Google is.
Google has so much power with their algorithm that who shows up on that first page, and you know who gets clicked. To me, it’s just too much power. We’ve seen of late, how they’re also exercising political power in changing actual search results. It’s been great for smaller firms I think that want to break through.
If they can niche on some kind of specific subject or thinking they can rise fairly quickly. It’s very difficult, but they can. But to me, the way Google’s set up the rich get richer, and dominate that first page. Anyway, even if they’re not number one or number two, because of their brand equity, they’re reputable clicks for searchers.
So I could go on and on about Google and their dominance, and how they exploit personal information, but I’ll stop there.
Jason Mlicki: Well, the interesting thing about Google, and the way I framed it is that they’re the central hub on the world’s information network, excluding China. What that means is in a network economy, most of the spoils go to the central hub. So essentially, no matter how much revenue you, as a professional services firm or a thought leadership marketer, you can drive to your firm using Google as a unbelievable channel to create interest and awareness for your thought leadership.
Google is taking home 100 times that by being that central hub. So they’ve really radically changed the classic economic structure of business. And that’s something that has really emerged in the network economy as a pretty significant macro issue.
I think the other thing I think is interesting about Google is, is that, yes, it has become the arbiter of quality in the minds of clients, in my opinion. But what’s fascinating about that is the way Google evaluates quality is not how people evaluate quality.
So you evaluate quality of thinking based on maybe who published it. You say, “Well, if HBR published it, it must be really, really good.” Or, if it came from McKinsey, or it came from Accenture. “I really know this guy, Shelly Palmer. I really trust the things that Shelley writes, and I really believe in him as a person.”
So you have ways that you evaluate quality, maybe writing style, your evaluations the thinking. Google evaluates quality based on inbound links, H1 tags, website authority. I mean, all kinds of technical factors that are proxies for how humans evaluate quality, but they’re not replacements.
It’s a little bit scary how much we’ve as people, how much authority we’ve given Google in our lives to be the arbiter of quality on so many dimensions. That’s probably the part that’s probably most concerning. I think the other layer to Google that we haven’t touched on that is important to touch on as a villain is Google is probably the poster child for data as currency in the economy. Right?
I mean they literally built the android operating system and gave it away for free to hardware manufacturers in order to get access to the data streams that are represented. I fully anticipate that was their play on the car front as well. Although I think that the car companies looked at what happened to the hardware manufacturers and said, “Whoa, I don’t want to do that.” Which is why you’re seeing that maybe not move us as quickly as it has.
But this notion that, “Hey, I should get this amazing piece of software and all this amazing stuff for free. As long as I click this button, then I accept this 7,000 page data privacy agreement where they’re basically going to sell me the product.” I mean you’re the product on Google, right? Is absurd, and yet we can’t really undo it now.
I mean it is what it is, and undoing it now is virtually impossible. And it’s very scary how our data, our click streams, our search behaviors, our history, everything that we say and do and interact with online and off is being pandered up and sold to advertisers by these companies. And we just let it happen. There’s not a whole lot we can do to change that really in the foreseeable future, in my opinion. So that would be the other layer to Google that I would argue is evil. Okay. That was intense. Those are some good ones.
Jeff McKay: The stage is set.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, don’t do evil. I’m not even really sure where to go from here. Why don’t you take a stab at another one. I’ll let you go twice.
Jeff McKay: All right. I’m gonna risk alienating some of our listeners, but I’m going to do it anyway. One of the biggest marketing villains for me are spunky marketers.
Jason Mlicki: I don’t know what that is.
Jeff McKay: They’re the extroverts. They love to throw parties. They have the candy bowl on their desk, and they’re just always charged up and cheerleading and carrying on. There is a time and a place for that. But I feel like those types of marketers, particularly in professional services firms, become a stereotype for marketers.
If they are in a firm first, they ruin marketing for us more introverted and analytical marketers. People come to expect party throwers, cheerleaders as marketers. I’ve never been that way, and I will probably never be that way. It’s just not who I am. And this probably says more about my insecurity than as spunky marketers as a group. But I don’t know what your experience is, but I just hate following behind the spunky marketer.
Jason Mlicki: Well, I’ll frame it as marketers who are, I’ll just say more style than substance, is really what I find to be a little bit disheartening at times. I remember we had a client once where we were doing a branding project, and it was a pretty large diversified firm. We were really trying to dig in deep into the point of view at the firm level, the value proposition at the practice levels. So there’s just a lot of very deep critical thought that had to go into figuring out how we were going to position this for relative to its peers in the marketplace. And the marketer, great person. I liked her a lot. Incredibly good person, and incredibly talented in many ways.
But, I remember she pulls me aside in this strategy meeting I’m running and says, she’s like, “I just need the answer. Just, just find me the answer [crosstalk 00:13:16]. I’m looking at her going like I … It was like, she didn’t really want to be in the details. She just wanted me to magically wave the wand and give her the answer.
I’m like, “Well, I need you to work with me on this. I need you to get focused in here and really dig into it.” But she just didn’t want to do that. And it’s not really a criticism, right? Because I mean, she had everything you said, she had tremendous energy, tremendous enthusiasm. Boy, could she sell ideas into the firm, but she just didn’t want to dig into that layer below of the hard work that we had to figure out.
That always made me a little uncomfortable, only because we do want the client to be engaged in the level of critical thought. Because we don’t have all the answers, right? I mean we have strong opinions, but we don’t know everything about the firm. And we need the marketer to have deep working knowledge of all the practices.
I think that’s something that … Well, maybe deep working knowledge is the wrong phrase. But a strong working knowledge of the firm so that they can really give critical feedback on things we’re doing. So I don’t know if that framed what you were saying, but that’s what I’ve seen in that regard.
I would just add that, like you said, that notion of that cliche of the marketer as partier or whatever. You go to some marketing events, and it’s just, “We’re going to have this happy hour and this party and that party and this and that and this.” I’m like, “Okay, where’s the substance guys? Can we have like a meaningful conversation here about thought leadership?” And no one wants to, right?
So that’s, I think the group that you’re picking on a little bit, but there’s a time and a place for those people. And they create a lot of value in other ways, so I don’t want to imply that, that’s the group of people that we want to alienate or ignore in the community. So, I don’t know if that made sense.
Jeff McKay: I agree. I think that was a nice layer to add to that.
Jason Mlicki: We don’t have that much more time, so we probably only have time for one or two more. So do you have any that are burning to share? And if not, I’ll offer a couple of ones that have been irking at me a little bit.
Jeff McKay: You’re saying that to control time because you think if I throw out my brilliant one it’ll eat up too much time.
Jason Mlicki: I just know you like to hear yourself talk. And I know you’ll probably waste at least 10 minutes, and I won’t get the word in edgewise.
Jeff McKay: All right, so I’m going to throw this one out quickly just to spite you. One of my biggest villains are sales trainers. And particularly, those sales trainers who were lone wolves, had a successful sales career, and then think everybody else should sell like I sell.
They write a book, and we know some of these people, I’m not going to throw out names. They have a blog. And they just spew this silliness around sales and sales technique, whether it’s closing because they’re super closers. Or they’re big networkers and this is how you network, or whatever it is. I just wish they would go away.
They have the right to pitch their wares, but to me they’re villains. Because what they’re selling and they’re good at selling it, is not useful to the general audience. Because it worked for them, and it would work for such a small sliver. I think there are a few really disciplined and thoughtful sales methodologies that actually work in professional services. Most of them do not, so they’re big villains.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I mean I think maybe I’ll layer on a couple things there. One is I see the villain of whenever you try to layer on methodologies from other places into professional services in the selling environment, that’s usually not going to work real well.
We’ve been in firms where they’ve engaged with someone, and the methodology was very clearly a product based selling model. Or a product based marketing model and that was pushing solutions, pushing features and benefits. And that’s just never going to work for a consulting based firm. That’s something, solutions to large complex problems.
But it’s very attractive to buy as a firm because you think, “Boy, if we could just sell this practice better, we would be doing so much better.” But it’s usually a road to destruction. That’s how I lump that.
I have a tactical thing downstream from that, that I had as a villain that I make fun of all the time. It’s a phrase. It comes off of these very tactical sales emails that I get all the time. I’m sure you do as well. The phrase reads something like this, “Can you tell me who at your agency was responsible for …” inserts obscure tactical thing.
Influencer marketing, Facebook advertising, Geo IP targeting. Anything obscure that you would never have an individual whose full responsibility was to do this very, really crazy thing. And then it’s followed up with, “Can I just have 15 minutes on your calendar on Friday at 2:00?” Whoever came up with that, huge villain for me.
So the answer is no, to anybody that’s ever sent me that email. You’ll never get a response from me on that ever in a million years. And you probably won’t from most business people either. So it’s those sales hacking sales tactics that are used, that I would describe as a villain, I guess.
Jeff McKay: I agree. All right. Our listeners are waiting for a year rapid fire villain lists.
Jason Mlicki: I’m not going to give them a rapid fire list. I put a lot of thought and deep introspection into these lists. I mean most of them connect with culture and society.
Jeff McKay: Come on spunky, throw them out.
Jason Mlicki: Well, I’ll leave one that’s just thought provoking. I’m going to name some names just to give some historical context, but I don’t consider them individuals as villains. But it’s the things that they spawn in society that I think are really disappointing.
So I’m sure you’re familiar with the Polo shirt. Are you aware of a guy named-
Jeff McKay: I wore it proudly in high school.
Jason Mlicki: Okay. Now did you wear a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt or a polo shirt?
Jeff McKay: A Polo shirt, needed the pony.
Jason Mlicki: Okay. So there was a guy named Lewis Lacey … You ever heard of Lewis Lacey?
Jeff McKay: Mm-mm (negative).
Jason Mlicki: I did some history and digging on this to basically understand the evolution of this. He was a polo star in Argentina in the 1920s. And he was really one of the first people to take the just classic basic polo white shirt with the collar that they wore to play the sport. And he embossed a logo of a little player on a pony on it, and sold it in a shop in Argentina.
Then in the 30s where Rene Lacoste picks up the idea and starts wearing a shirt that’s called Le Crocodile. And he was a tennis player actually. Then that came to the US in the 50s with the English tailor, Jack Izod, who basically then turned it into that Izod Lacoste brand that we all know.
Then, of course, Ralph Lauren took it to a whole another level of status symbol. So, shirt and this little, which I’m actually wearing right now, this little horse as a status symbol. So this idea that the marks that I wear, or the marks that I put on my body and I take out into the world are metaphors of definitions of who I am. And the status that I want to impart into my social class or what have you.
So, just that none of those people are individually are villains, but that whole movement as it spawned through culture and society, to me, is just villainous. Because it created this whole world around haves and have nots. And we’re all walking advertisements for these other people’s visions of brands or things they want to sell or whatever.
If you look around, it’s almost impossible to find someone wearing a tee shirt that’s not embossed with some logo or some tagline or a shirt that isn’t marked somewhere with some indicator of status. I just think it’s really disappointing. And has had a really disappointing and dangerous level of … Driven a lot of consumerism in our society that I find upsetting.
So that’s my history lesson on logo marks as merchandising, and its role as a villain in our American culture. More than you ever wanted, right?
Jeff McKay: Whoa, that one, man, you could do a whole dissertation on that. I did not know that the Polo logo preceded the Lacoste. I thought the Lacoste set the trend. Well, I guess you said it did in America.
Jason Mlicki: The Polo symbol that we know as Ralph Lauren’s is obviously uniquely his. Now, the timing on that, whether it followed Lacoste or not, I’m not real sure. I think Lacoste came first. But I thought was really interesting that the idea of just embossing a mark on a shirt as a symbol, came from this obscure polo player. I thought that was really fascinating that you could [crosstalk 00:22:18].
Jeff McKay: Well, it used to be, I remember when those first came out. It’s like, “What’s wrong with your shirt? The tags go on the inside, not the outside.” But your point is spot on, because just look at sports marketing. And if you take soccer in particular, there are NASCAR, cycling, hockey, I mean the boards are just covered with ads.
I mean it’s anywhere there’s real estate for a logo. People will buy it as a result of that. That started at all. That’s interesting.
Jason Mlicki: Well, we’ve come to this belief system too, that a logo somehow defines us or defines our success. I even think through when Ohio State migrated to Nike as their primary apparel provider years and years ago, 20, 30 years ago. And the first time they put that Nike mark on their uniforms, that was a big status symbol at the time.
It was like a statement to the world that you were one of the elite programs. Because Nike wasn’t merchandising every school at that point in time, right?
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason Mlicki: So, it was all of a sudden it was a status symbol for them. You’ll see, think about mark as status symbol, either for a company, a sports team, a person, and it’s really disappointing how far we’ve come in terms of making ourselves maybe over consumered in that regard.
So I just think that there’s a lot of villainy to be spread around on that journey. But I just thought it was more interesting to look into some of the history about how that came to be.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Well, some of our listeners are going to definitely disagree with you. And I would say a lot of the professional services firms that are on the links courses with golfers, some of who have been guests on our podcast, would disagree with you. But, that’s a good one. That’s a good one. All right, your next one.
Jason Mlicki: We’re out of time.
Jeff McKay: What? I’ve been waiting with bated breath.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, that was my big closer. I mean, I’ve got more. We are clearly out of time. I mean, do you have one quick one you want to throw in before we wrap?
Jeff McKay: Super Bowl ads. You started by talking about marketing approaches that have jumped the shark, and I believe Super Bowl ads have jumped the shark. There used to be a time when those were creative and meaningful and started conversations. I think now with the combination of social media pre-release and just our political climate, I just find them annoying.
I really wish the Super Bowl ads, and the hype around them would just go away. And we could get back to just watching football. Instead of a big band production show at half time, just give me a high school marching band for 10 minutes and let’s get on with the game.
I’d throw the whole Super Bowl in with the Super Bowl ads. It’s one of those things that marketing has ruined, and it trickles down to everywhere else in marketing.
Jason Mlicki: Well, I’ll add to that for literally 30 seconds, and maybe we’ll come back to the villains again in the future. But, I think you could take it one layer further, and really just say the NFL. I’ll leave it at that. We should put a wrap to the marketing villains episode.
I think now we’ve got two episodes on the heroes, one episode on the villains. I think we still have more on the heroes side. We probably still have more on the villain side. I’ll look forward to talking to you next month, and hope our listeners enjoy their short hiatus. And we’ll welcome you back in September. So thanks for your time. See you, Jeff.
Jeff McKay: See you, buddy.