Theory / Practice

I approach copy and content differently from many other writers and creative directors. My principles are based about half on current research, half on personal experience as a consumer / social media user who gets marketed to every day of the year. The research and the subjective experiences agree with one another. They disagree with many prevailing practices, especially in the realm of social media advertising.

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 cannot be skipped, are vestiges of long-gone era, 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 are 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 things 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 work to build communities of customers who use your products or services, you will earn many followers. If you join these communities—first as a member of the community, second as a resource to the community—you will earn 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. Which is to say … bad for their business. These ideas run counter to huge swaths of contemporary digital advertising practice. The better solutions are challenging to implement, challenging to scale, and (more worrisome to agencies), challenging to monetize.

Truly progressive and imaginative agencies will welcome the 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 challenging and somewhat disruptive ideas, then maybe we should talk.