Don’t tell anyone, but there is an industry, and a big one at that, that comes close to justifying the layman’s prejudices about marketing.
Polytechnic lecturers, who are now called university lecturers and should therefore appreciate more than most the value of branding and labelling, however misleading, stubbornly persist in the view that marketing is selling for selling’s sake. I know, I know. It’s enough to cause a weary, sardonic smile to flicker across the lips of the creative as, beads of blood springing from his temple, he wrests from the depths of his being a rhyming couplet with exactly the mot juste to shift 300 container loads of gravy-laden meaty morsels.
In truth, marketing is craft and art. It is research and planning. It is strategy and execution. It is the oil that keeps the wheels of commerce turning. It’s a Shakespeare sonnet, it’s an Easter bonnet, it’s Mickey Mouse. But it’s not bloody selling. Then again, there’s insurance.
The indemnity industry, to which I alluded in the first paragraph, applies itself with impressive diligence to selling for selling’s sake. I don’t know how much the insurers spend on flogging their products, but it must run into many millions.
They are masters of all the wrinkles. Artfully seductive, they flatter.They tell you that you are so important, so special, that you deserve protection. And, in a gentle kind of way, they threaten you.
What if you failed to buy sufficient cover? You would be betraying yourself and your family. They hold out the promise of peace of mind. Put your trust, and your money, in us and no matter what ill-tempered fate might hold up her sleeve, be it iron bar or sockful of wet sand, you’ll be okay.
From the roof on your house to the bones in your body, from the car in your garage to the pork chop in your freezer, we’ll cover the lot. Just sign here and there could be a carriage clock in it for you – genuine gear, nothing dodgy.
But try making a claim. Gone is the smiling face and the seductive voice; in its place looms the glowering countenance of suspicion and threat.
Do you realise, it hisses, you are trying to obtain money under false pretences, which is not only illegal but also irresponsible and anti-social? Should you persist in extracting payment, you will be hurting all those countless thousands of other policyholders who, mindful of their wider duties to society in general and the insurance business in particular, are not making claims. As a result of your selfishness those blameless citizens will have to pay increased premiums. How does that make you feel? How can you carry on owning that carriage clock, even as its gilt falls off in shiny slivers and its tinny innards collapse, without feeling a pang of remorse?
These sombre reflections are occasioned not, as you might think, by a bruising encounter with an insurance company, but by the appearance in yet another guise of the industry’s smiling face.
An insurance company is offering holidaymakers cover against wet British summers. If there is half an inch of rain per day for at least half of their break, holidaymakers can claim back 20 per cent of the cost of their holiday.
“We hope it will make British holidays more attractive again,” says a spokesman for the insurers.
“We have all seen the poor family on the sea front in the rain in plastic macs, mum and dad miserable, bedraggled and the kids crying,” he adds. “They’ve paid their hard-earned money for a week in Bognor, Brighton, Brixham or wherever and it has been ruined.
“If we can send them home with a little money back in their pockets, then maybe we will have a better chance of keeping those visitors in the UK next year.”
Have you ever heard anything so selfless, so downright public spirited? Wracked by the spectacle of a miserable family, huddled wet and forlorn on a seafront, gazing through tear-soaked faces to an horizon where slate sea and gunmetal sky blend mournfully into one, the insurer quietly sobs and draws up a policy. When his quill has ceased scratching and the work is complete, he is suffused with a warmth known only to the true philanthropist.
Henceforth, when rain gutters down plastic mac, mum leans on dad in despair, and the unrelenting heavens echo to the pitiful screams of kids, the family will contemplate the ashes of their holiday and see rising from them a phoenix with a wadge in its beak. Oh joy, they will exclaim, and, hands linked, dance down the ankle-splashing front like a troupe of Gene Kellys into the wreckage of next year’s holiday.
But what if there is an inch of rain for a quarter of their holiday followed by a half inch of rain for every day but one up to the halfway point? What if the rain fell during the night, would that be the wrong kind of rain?
What if the holiday budget exceeded expectations due to extra disbursements required to mollify screaming kids, viz ruinous trips to amusement arcades, small fortune spent on ice creams, and extortionate price of tickets to cinema showing unsuitable material? Would the insurance company cough up?
Would the policyholder care to pull the other one?