Secret Marketer: My old boss sacked his marketing director – now his media plan is misguided

Non-marketers have a tendency to believe they are marketing geniuses but after sacking his marketing director my former boss is now buying ads during Jeremy Kyle reruns.

I would like to propose a challenge, readers: first, find a new advertising campaign that you are working on – ideally one that you have several creative options for. Then walk around the office asking people to join you in a meeting to give their opinions on the campaign and the creative. Replicate the same task, only this time ask people to join you to discuss the marketing budget.

You can predict the outcome of the challenge in seconds: the ‘creative options’ meeting will have people offering their wisdom and insight on which campaign will work best. The second meeting will see people reaching for excuses.

I was reminded of the tendency non-marketers have to believe they are marketing geniuses when a former boss asked me for advice recently. Over lunch, he told me he had sacked the marketing director for incompetence and had taken over the reins while he searched for a replacement. My former boss had fallen prey both to his own preferences and to the sales pitches from media sales people. He had been busy spending money on sponsorships and buying TV advertising destined to appear on late night TV or Jeremy Kyle reruns, with no identifiable targeting or selection process other than his own ability to say no.

He’s a smart guy, has deep technical capabilities and has worked wonders in challenging commercial circumstances. However, he genuinely believes he has marketing nailed. He has mistakenly assessed his marketing ability to be higher than it really is.

There is even a technical term for this: the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’; most incompetent people don’t know they are incompetent. Indeed, they are blissfully self-assured because the skills required for competency are often the same skills required to recognise competency. They reach erroneous conclusions because their incompetence robs them of their ability to recognise reality. My former boss has allowed his cognitive biases to overcome his normally sharp, questioning mind, and let smooth-tongued salesmen select media campaigns on the basis of personal interest.

This has interesting implications for our own inadequacies and inherent biases. There are probably lots of things that I am bad at, and I don’t know it. Of course, I’m sure I am God’s gift in my mind, but to the expert, I’m delusional. Our own failure to recognise our lack of skill, the extent of our inadequacies and worse, our failure to recognise genuine skill in others can cause as much mayhem as it has done for my former boss.

At lunch, I tried to feign enthusiasm for his media choices. But I realised I need to spend just as much time looking in a mirror instead of getting miffed when others don’t recognise my world-class capabilities.

Marketing Week has teamed up with award-winning columnist and Professor Mark Ritson to introduce a Mini MBA in marketing. Covering the same core modules as leading MBA programmes but in just 12 lessons, it aims to give marketers the tools needed to do their job better. For more information about the course click here.

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