Advertising is the worst kind of marketing

It’s 2010, decades into the age of database marketing and years into the age of social media, but advertising is still the primary paradigm for marketing. Most modern direct mail campaigns are really nothing more than advertising in envelopes, and most companies look at their social media programs as just another way to “get the word out.” As much as the marketing world pretends things have changed, they are really much the same.

When I notice this, I always reflect on how much advertising bores me as a marketing professional. Yes, I can do it and can create effective advertising strategies, but like a pediatrician doing his 10,000th camp physical, I can’t wait to get on to other, more interesting work.

Why, as a marketer, am I so disinclined to spend time on advertising, the most popular, “glamorous” form of marketing? Why am I so disinterested in Advertising Age‘s email newsletter, preferring instead to skip it, so I can read National Geographic or listen to jazz?

The reason is simple. Advertising is just about the most unnatural form of human communication imaginable.Where else in life is it the accepted practice to shout one message at thousands of people and expect to succeed? Beyond rodeo announcing, I can’t think of many.

Advertising is the worst kind of marketing. My marketing interests fall much more to applying principles of real life to the practice of customer interactions. I wrote my first book,Brand Harmony, based on what my musical training taught me about the way harmony affects perception. In all areas of life, people are attracted to interesting blends, not to brute-force yelling. A fully-integrated customer experience goes much further than a screaming ad campaign.

My second book, We: The Ideal Customer Relationshipis a direct affront to the plastic world of advertising. Advertising is an extremely unnatural form of human interaction, and, as such, should not be a model for engaging customers. Personal relationships, on the other hand, are the breath of our social life as humans and are the perfect model for customer interactions. What’s more likely to endear a customer to your company, a clever ad campaign or a collaborative “We” relationship? Look to your life as an analog for the answer.

Now, I am thoroughly involved in creating my new book, Ditch the Pitchwhich takes principles of improvisation, from the stage and music, and relates these principles to sales. Sales pitches, similar to advertising, are a dreadfully unnatural form of human communication; who wants to listen to someone else monologue their story? Can you imagine a Cro-magnon man, 45,000 years ago, using our newfound human language skills to “pitch” his friends in order to persuade them to join him on an antelope hunt? No! But fresh, improvised conversations, with alert, dynamic interaction, get at the core of what makes us human and at what enables us to lead rich, fulfilling social lives.

I’m happy to work on advertising issues as they relate to the broader business needs of my clients. But, at all times, I recognize advertising as a “necessary evil” that should be used when more natural forms of communication are impractical. Advertising always comes with costs, and these costs go well beyond the price-per-column-inch charged by a publication. Every time you advertise,w you are compromising your customer relationships, because you are communicating with your customers in an impersonal way. Every advertising effort should be balanced with a disproportionate, counter-balancing effort to engage in natural, human interactions with your customers. Otherwise, your relationships with customers won’t seem natural.

The other day I was leading a discussion with a client company’s senior management team. I told them my dream: Someday they would have an advertising budget of $0, with repeat customers and customer referrals profitably filling their capacity. The only way to realize that dream is to look to the fundamental principles of human interaction and human relationship that fuel our everyday lives, and let them fuel the business.

Steve Yastrow

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Posted in Ditch the Pitch, Improvisation, Newsletters
One comment on “Advertising is the worst kind of marketing
  1. Andy Thorp says:

    Hi Steve
    Not been active here for a while, but your message has brought me back from the dead!

    You talked about working on the ‘Ditch the Pitch’ book and I look forward to this. Amongst local networking groups we seem to have 2 schools of thought on the Elevator Pitch – School One says always keep it the same; that way it embeds in the minds of your fellow group members and they can look out for referral opportunities.

    School Two (my preference) is that you should vary it. Maybe use a story each time, something that’s happened to you since the last meeting or maybe something on TV or in the papers that relates back to the core theme of your business. The problem with School One is that it’s deadly dull to hear the same pitch over and over AND the messenger gets (and sounds) bored with it too! It’s like always writing the same blog post on the basis that people will really ‘get’ what you do.

    I also like the analogy of going to the theater – if you’re in the audience and it feels like the actors are trotting out the same old stuff they’ve done a hundred times before, you feel cheated.

    To my mind stories are key to making an impact in the business world. First, do you tell a good one that engages people and has impact on how they feel? Does it feel authentic and spontaneous? Second, are you doing things that are so great they GENERATE stories themselves? Do you get the chattering classes chattering? I think this is the essence of great marketing.

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