Theory / Practice

Maybe you share my skepticism toward trends in online and social media marketing. Maybe you feel that the ads targeting you day-in, day-out, are more annoying than persuasive. Maybe the most precisely targeted ads leave you feeling more violated than understood. 

You’re not alone, and your suspicions are borne out by a growing body of research. Much of the research isn’t even new; it’s just been ignored, or spun into good news by marketers and agency gurus with a business model to preserve. 

I believe there are better approaches—ones that empower your customers rather than trying to manipulate them. I’m especially interested in approaches based on conversation, information, and community-building, rather than interruption and industrial revolution-era salesmanship.

Some principles:

  1. You cannot annoy people in buying your product. You cannot bully them into liking your brand. Interruptive techniques, including modal popup windows and video ads that can’t be skipped, are vestiges of bygone times when consumers weren’t accustomed to controlling their media. Today these techniques do more harm than good. Consumers hate them, and if you use them they will hate you. These techniques continue to exist because they are easy, and are a first resort for marketing people who lack imagination. You should demand better.
  2. Consumers are tired of being sold to. They mistrust salespeople and advertisers. But they’re hungry for useful, trustworthy information, and for actual human beings who represent a company and offer help. If you can put a human face on your product or brand, and use it to help the consumer, rather than nakedly trying to help yourself, you will win genuine loyalty.
  3. Consumers are tired of being seen as consumers. Think about the word: it conjures ocean filter-feeders, or flesh-eating bacteria. Stop using it. From now on let’s call them customers. Or potential customers. Or people.
  4. Extremely targeted advertising is of dubious value. If a potential customer has been researching Acme Rocket-Powered Roller Skates on Google and Amazon for the last week, why are you paying to show them an ad? Market studies based on regression analysis will show that the ad worked … but the customer was going to buy the thing anyway. Beware of regression studies. They often conflate causation with correlation, and are a favorite tool of self-serving marketers. There’s one reliable result of highly targeted marketing: a deeply creepy sense that Big Brother is watching.
  5. If you use your social media presence to inform, to engage, and to help, you will earn followers. If you build communities of customers who use your products or services, you will earn more followers. If you join these communities—first as a member, second as a resource—you will earn especially loyal followers. If you listen five times as much as you talk, and if your talk includes five times as much engagement with individuals as it does broadcasting marketing messages, you will earn followers who love you.*
  6. If your product or service is truly exceptional, then your messaging should serve to present and illuminate it. Let your works do the selling. People are tired of hype. Hype drags you down to the level of everyone else.
  7. If your product or service is not exceptional, your problem isn’t marketing. Fix what you do, then worry about how to sell it. In the Willy Loman era, it was a feather in one’s cap to be able to “sell anything.” Today we have a floating island of discarded plastic in the Pacific Ocean that’s larger than the state of Texas. Don’t contribute to the problem.

I’m going to expand this section, with citations of current research. In the mean time, if you’re feeling skeptical (and I encourage you to be skeptical of anyone who’s trying to sell to you), here are some questions to consider:

  1. How often have you clicked on web ad or social media ad and actually bought something?
  2. How often, when your web browsing has been interrupted by a pop-up dialog or a video, have you felt compelled to buy something or click a link? How often have you felt utter contempt? How often have you gone out of your way to avert your ears and eyes, to somehow punish the advertiser?
  3. How often have you seen a web ad for something you were just reading about on another platform, and felt … vaguely violated?

Advertising and marketing agencies sometimes get uncomfortable when confronted with these ideas, because they’re bad for business. More specifically, bad for their business—if they’re unwilling to adapt. The best solutions are challenging to implement, challenging to scale, and (more worrisome to agencies), challenging to monetize.

Truly progressive and imaginative agencies will welcome these challenges. They’ll see opportunities to distinguish themselves from the competition. Everyone else will just see their business model under threat.

If you’re a client or an agency who’s drawn to these challenges, then maybe we should talk.


*Using the latest crop of “social listening” tools is a reasonable step, but will not by itself foster the kinds of deep engagement people most respect. You can’t control every conversation, nor should you hope to. You absolutely want to take part in the most important ones.


About Me

I write copy and content for all media, including UX. I develop and document brand style. I specialize in longer-form content, where the goals are information, engagement, community-building, and brand-building. Not just clicks.

My writing roots go deep. My parents met as copywriters at Ogilvy & Mather in the 1950s. My grandfather was a copywriter and journalist, then a playwright and screenwriter. He married a novelist. I’ve picked up the family habit, working over the years in fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and advertising.

I’m also a visual artist, with an international audience, and I’ve worked as a designer and ad studio artist.

I’m seeking opportunities to write persuasive, memorable copy and content, for a brand or organization that fits my talents.

Here’s what I offer:

  • Great writing, solid thinking, sharp wit.
  • Resistance to mindless trends. Commitment to moving beyond obsolete, interruptive advertising techniques and careless use of targeting.
  • Style. Ability to establish a brand’s voice, or to adopt any existing voice. Comfort with the language of the rich, the artists, the geeks, the academics, the punks, the hippies, the hipsters, the executives, the cowboys.
  • Teamwork. Communicating and collaborating with designers, art directors, production people, strategy people. I’ve done those jobs, so I speak the language and know the pet peeves.
  • Ability to grasp the strategy and stick to it.
  • Appetite for research. I like to know what I’m talking about.
  • Art direction. If you ever need someone who can work from strategy to copy to comp to mechanical, for a pitch or guerilla campaign, I can do it.
  • Offbeat expertise: alpine mountaineering, bicycle racing, cooking (I ran an underground restaurant in Bushwick, and blog about food science), photography (world famous!), music (played bass in most of NYC’s low-rent dives), science and contemporary poetry (huge nerd).

I hope you find my work compelling. There’s much more on the way.


Resumé PDF


Huge thanks to Laura Henze for awesomizing this website, with Caroline Moore’s “Spun” theme.