Marketing doesn’t feel dirty when you’re trying to convince your girlfriend to watch Pulp Fiction instead of Gossip Girl. It does feel dirty when a company tells me I won’t have sex unless I wear a particularly poignant spray on my body.
I’d rather watch Gossip Girl.
Bad marketing is disgusting. Good marketing is art. Marketing with lies won’t last. It will destroy relationships and eventually a marketer’s career. Marketing with truth will win forever-fans and pots of gold.
But telling the truth doesn’t look like protesting the lives of others (it’s not hard-to-swallow truth). It means accepting your target market’s worldview and speaking to it. It means entertaining more than educating. It means connection over informing.
No book has made such a more noble case for marketing than Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars. The book is relatively old – it was published in 2005 and went viral online before that – but is important for anyone interested in marketing (especially for the new wave of growth hackers).
Here’s some great bits out of the introductory section of the book:
[Note: Words in bold italics are my emphasis.]
[If you want more on story, check out this post.]
Consumers are the liars, not marketers.
…consumers are complicit in marketing. Consumers believe stories. Without this belief, there is no marketing. A marketer can spend plenty on promoting a product, but unless consumers are actively engaged in believing the story, nothing happens.
Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers. It’s the consumers who are liars. As consumers, we lie to ourselves every day. We lie to ourselves about what we wear, where we live how we vote and what we do at work. Successful marketers are just the providers of stories that consumers choose to believe.
…I believe that people tell themselves stories and then work to make them true. I call a story that a consumer believes a lie. I think that once people find a remarkable lie that will benefit them if it spreads, they selfishly tell the lie to others, embellishing it along the way.
Marketers’ incentives align with consumers:
A great story is true. Not true because it’s factual, but true because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on.
Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we’ve got left. No one trusts anyone.
Great stories are subtle. …Talented marketers understand that the prospect is ultimately telling himself the lie, so allowing him (and the rest of the target audience) to draw his own conclusions is far more effective than just announcing the punch line.
Great stories don’t contradict themselves. …If your art gallery carries the right artists but your staff is rejects from a used car lot, you lose. If your subdivision has lovely wooded grounds but ticky-tacky McMansions, you lose. Consumers are clever and they’ll see your deceit at once.
[Great] stories agree with our worldview. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience already and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.
We insist on stories:
The reason all successful markets tell stories is that consumers insist on it. Consumers are used to telling stories to themselves and telling stories to each other, and it’s just natural to buy stuff from someone who’s telling us a story. People can’t handle the truth.
We get the marketing we deserve.
The above truths about marketing and storytelling are only true because we’ve become better consumers. We still run the same lies but we see more bullshit. The Internet is full of people calling out shitty products and people who have screwed them over. We can’t get away with blatant lies because they’ve been called out.
The marketing that works on us is the marketing that, on some level, we’ve asked for. To the extent that we don’t take responsibility for our self-esteem, sense of purpose, and motivation we will depend on stories from others. Usually ads.
It’s worth working towards self-reliance and a better taste for story. It’s not worth getting upset at marketers to tell us stories we demand.
Better consumers get better marketing.