Free pitching, hyper targeting and meaningless content have all been consigned to the Marketing Room 101.
Making their pitches for what should be banned at the Festival of Marketing: The Year Ahead today (19 October) were BBH founder Sir John Hegarty, former Aviva brand director Jan Gooding, who is now a coach at Kiloran Bay, and Andrew Tenzer, director of market insight and brand strategy at publishing group Reach.
Each proposed two marketing bugbears, which were then put to the vote to be banished from the marketing lexicon.
‘Customer is king’ vs free pitches
Gooding kicked off proceedings, urging people to “completely ban the notion that customer is king”.
“This has been a poor mantra of marketing people throughout my career,” she said. “It’s based on the premise that if you want to increase the number of customers you have, you’d better listen to what they want and serve their needs.
“And all around us we’ve heard CEOs declaring that their future success is going to be based on customer centricity. It’s driven consumerism and along with it decades of innovation and growth based on tapping – supposedly – into fundamental human desires and fulfilling dreams.”
However, she believes this has created “a monster”. “We now have an epidemic of obesity, we have a mountain of plastic waste and we have a planet in crisis. I feel we have unwittingly fuelled addictions to gambling, junk food and social media, because the consumer is actually like a greedy toddler wanting more and more toys, chocolate and fast food, regardless of the consequences for their own health or the impact on those who supply them,” she said.
Instead she urged marketers to use their skills to engage, communicate and encourage people to change their attitudes and behaviour. “My proposal is we make the planet the king,” she added.
However, it was Gooding’s argument for ending free pitches that won out.
“I’d like to consign free pitching to history,” she said. “When I came into the business, agencies were paid 15% commission and they were full service. Gradually over time that all broke up and remuneration moved to being a fee-based model. But one of the things that has not changed [despite] this huge fragmentation and change in remuneration is that free pitches – full, strategic and creative responses to client briefs – have continued to be given.”
She reassured agencies that all their existing clients “will absolutely love it because they know what’s going on”. She suggested it would mean brands would have no choice but to pay up and would encourage them to be “rather more careful” about the number of agencies they invite to pitch as they would know “the meter was running”. She also urged agencies to “have the courage of their conviction” and not work unless they are being paid an amount of money in advance.
Social purpose marketing vs hyper targeting
Meanwhile, Andrew Tenzer nominated social purpose marketing and hyper targeting.
He argued there is no evidence to suggest social purpose marketing is an effective way of selling. “In fact all the evidence suggests the opposite,” he said.
It’s something he has been researching for a number of years and has come to the conclusion social purpose is not an important reason or motivation for buying.
“Social purpose messaging actually ranks lowest in terms of motivation across a number of key categories,” he said. “For instance, only 10% of UK adults say a position on social issues would make them buy a product – and that’s the same across all age groups.”
Instead the key things consumers consider are factors like value for money at 82% and reliability at 67%.
“As an industry we have been sold a bit of a lie by research agencies and consultancies that tell us people buy brands differently these days, but I think that is driven by research that is badly designed, leading, executed badly and distilled down into PR-able research stats that have no bearing on how people buy brand and products,” he said.
He also questioned why marketers think of themselves as “credible agents of social change”. It’s “simply not true”, he added.
However it was Tenzer’s pitch for binning hyper targeting that won out.
He argued it is “destroying the cultural relevance of marketing and advertising”, describing it as “anti-human”.
“We’re often told we need to work with human nature but hyper targeting goes against the grain of human nature and underlying human behaviour,” he added.
He believes hyper targeting is ignoring the power of context and social proof.
“Our basic instinct is to copy others – you only have to look at the petrol shortage to see that. Advertising and marketing benefit from being a shared cultural experience. It’s hard to know what a brand stands for if you’re delivering multiple messages in a hyper-targeted way.”
He urged the industry to “stop taking the easy way out” and think about how it can provide “powerful shared experiences” for brands instead.
‘All-new’ vs meaningless content
Lastly, Sir John Hegarty took issue with the phrase ‘all-new’ as a means of differentiation.
He described the phrase as “lazy” and suggested there is in fact no such thing as ‘all-new’ anyway. “It’s a laziness that has crept into our communication and I sadly see that my old wonderful brand which I worked on for so long – Audi – has adopted it as well.”
He added: “Creativity is about getting people to understand the subtle differences that may occur in a brand. Putting that phrase at the beginning of any recent car marketing renders it the same as everybody else’s.”
However, it was his gripe with content, a word he said “fills me with horror” whenever he hears it, that was relegated to Marketing Room 101.
“I refer to it as digital landfill,” he said. “We’ve become obsessed with the idea that to say something you need longer rather than shorter. The power of advertising has always been to take a very complicated issue and reduce it down to a very simple, powerful message that becomes a part of culture. Content goes in the opposite direction – it expands my need to pay attention to something that really is not that important in my life.”
Using the example of deodorant, he said of course you want to know it’s effective but you don’t need a five-minute video explaining how wonderful it is. “There is brilliant advertising that could do that in 30 seconds,” he added.
He also argued the “environmental waste” of all this content “must be enormous”. “It seems to me absolutely absurd and [indicates] an industry gone mad. Why clients have bought into it I have absolutely no idea.”
There was one caveat to his argument, though, which was instructional videos, such as those that teach cooking. However, he concluded “99.9% of content is completely valueless.”