Harry Lang: Marketers can redeem their sins if they start acting responsibly

Since the snake convinced Eve to taste the forbidden fruit in Genesis, marketers have been breaking rules, but to earn back consumer trust they need to make a new commitment to behave responsibly.

responsible behaviourAdam and Eve had no real use for a new 64GB iPhone X with double data package. If they wanted to explore, they could walk around the limitless bounds of Eden at will with no need to plug into Waze. Dating was a foregone conclusion, no formal employment meant no email and if they wanted to chat, they could simply talk to each other.

Things were very different in Old Testament times, but the one thing that has remained constant is marketers breaking the rules – ever since a wily snake, oozing sales savvy from every scale, used all the direct marketing tricks in the book in order to close the deal with aspirational Eve.

READ MORE: Harry Lang: The five most elusive emotions in advertising

In a trick mimicked by millennial-hungry brands to this day, he suggested parental disapproval to entice and excite the naïve Eve. He then sweetened the pot with a ‘buy now, pay later’ sales promotion device.

Behaviour like this and the subsequent fallout for every human being on the planet (granted, there were only two of them at the time) set a nasty precedent for dirty marketing tricks and nefarious sales tactics. Cain and Able looked like a prime case for ‘no win, no fee’ litigation. Noah instigated the early equivalent of a Sandals couple’s holiday (“Cruise with me, or sink to your untimely death” – classic Noah) and Lot’s wife just had to look in the right place to win a lifetime’s supply of salt.

As consumers become increasingly savvy, there would be considerable benefit in updating our marketing industry commandments.

Apparently God found all this gung-ho marketing activity more than a little trying, so in a rather grandiose statement He sent a list of guidelines down to Moses via Mount Sinai, carved in tablets rather than the more user-friendly native app format.

It seems that with the constant innovation in communications, platforms, media and tools we’ve rather outgrown His early efforts and have ridden roughshod over the ten commandments in order to make a buck. Today’s marketers, lacking in consumer trust, could certainly do with updating these:

  1. “You shall have no other gods before Me” has been wholeheartedly ignored, if the 4,200+ alternate religions and Justin Bieber’s Instagram channel are anything to go by.
  2. “You shall not make idols.” Pop, American, Indian, New Zealand – there are now over 46 variants around the world with versions broadcast to more than 6.6 billion people in 150 countries. Take that, commandment number two.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Joel Scott Osteen, known as ‘Pastor Joe’ to his 20 million monthly viewers in over 100 countries, is an extraordinary salesman trading under the catchy job title of ‘televangelist’. Go and have a gander on YouTube – if this guy’s grip on the scriptures were any looser he’d spill the bulk of the $60m he’s reportedly raised from his adoring flock.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” A tricky one to defend, commandment number four, because Sainsbury’s et al being open on a Sunday is actually pretty useful to most of us.
  5. “Honour your father and your mother.” It still amazes me that I’m bombarded with TV ads for car insurance, supermarkets, loo roll, new sparkly smartphones and a seemingly endless line in things that look like butter (but surely can’t be butter) and yet a demographic of nearly 12 million over-65s remain woefully underserved. Many of them are time- and cash-rich thanks to booming property values, so we should perhaps add an addendum to this commandment: “Also remember the grandparents.”
  6. “You shall not murder.” Exhibit A: Kendall Jenner for Pepsi. Death by a thousand cuts. Think, you high-spending, sugar-rushing numpties – think.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.” We can put at least some of the blame for breaking this one on the shoulders of the consumer – they’re a fickle bunch, for sure. However their reasons to chop and change at the first sight of a BOGOF deal is simply the market responding to value urges above brand advocacy. Loyalty has to be earned – repeatedly, it seems. Brand switching is an unfortunate side effect of working in a vibrant economy so you can either cut your cost, improve product quality or sprinkle magic fairy dust on your brand to make it hyper-desirable.
  8. “You shall not steal.” Have you seen an original ad this year? Like the movie industry relying on sequels it looks like we’re in serious danger of running out of new ideas. As a regular TV watcher and semi-professional procrastinator, the frequency with which I get déjà vu is getting quite galling and plagiarism is rife. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of these client presentations, applauding a strutting creative director with a recycled YouTube idea in one hand and a five-zero invoice in the other.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” This one means don’t lie, doesn’t it? Well, white lies in marketing are fine, I assume, otherwise we’re really going to have to start from scratch with the concept of honesty. However this may not be such a bad thing, as fans of the classic 1990 movie Crazy People will attest.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.” This commandment is particularly topical. In late January reports seeped through Vice and Motherboard about ‘Fake App’, a tool that can overlay someone’s face onto a video body. Like your colleague’s face onto Jabba the Hut’s slithering form. Or a young Hollywood starlet into a porn film, thus facilitating a billion illegal, phoney sex tapes. It’s disgusting, deplorable and deserves to be banned for the rest of eternity.

Time to make some changes

These days, the ASA, CAP Codes, CIM, CIPR and Ofcom are the core regulatory bodies for UK marketing, advertising, PR and TV professionals. Higher-risk product categories like food, alcohol, beauty products, environmentally friendly products, medicines, tobacco and gambling have supplemental sub-sets of guidelines, in some cases added voluntarily, on top of those.

Additionally many are introducing proactive communications guidelines to protect their ability to market themselves in the future. However there remain some significant gaps – some practical, some ethical and some just common sense.

As consumers have become increasingly savvy and the choices available to them broader, it seems there would be considerable benefit in updating our own advertising and marketing industry commandments beyond the letter of the law. Doing what’s right (as opposed to simply following the guidelines to the least viable extent) would show a responsible, customer-centric intent and a long-game view that competition and the hunger for fast money appear to have been pushed to the sidelines.

Having completed a seven-day turnaround on creating the earth, the universe and everything, God “saw all that he had made, and it was very good”. Perhaps it is time to draw up a set of your own commandments – a personal reminder of how you can act more responsibly. Then, maybe you’ll be able to say the same.

Harry Lang (@FactDeJour) is the former marketing director of Pinnacle and founder of Brand Architects, a brand-building and marketing optimisation consultancy.

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Comments
  • Anil Kumar Pammidimukkala 13 Feb 2018 at 9:04 am

    Awesome @FactDeJour, thought-provoking and penned with the least sinfulness.

    • harry lang 13 Feb 2018 at 9:51 am

      Many thanks Anil – appreciate the positive feedback

  • ALEXANDER czajkowski 13 Feb 2018 at 2:04 pm

    When people selling poison win awards for their ads and we have to fight for our right to provide real entertainment to adults… look forward to your inevitable Koran version.

  • harry lang 13 Feb 2018 at 2:45 pm

    That version? No chance Alex!

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