On advertising and integrity

Should agencies eat their own dog food?

Anyone working in marketing will inevitably come across a lot of “rah-rah” and disingenuous hype – both in the actual marketing materials produced, as well as throughout the internal strategic and creative processes involved in developing that marketing.

Part of this hype involves the false notion that marketers somehow owe their clients some kind of loyalty. That marketers who sell a certain product must also be users and buyers of that product. That they must be willing to swallow their reason and integrity and live with whatever deficiencies a client’s products might evince.

This attitude is based on a massive misunderstanding of the purpose of marketing, and I don’t believe in it. I think it is disingenuous, it lacks integrity and it means you, as a marketer, are essentially not living in the real world.

Clients count on agencies to help them navigate reality, not project a false one. To understand the real parameters that affect the commercial world that their clients inhabit, and provide truthful and productive advice.

If every agency actually worked for a client with a better product, there would be no inferior products. We know this is not true. And for us to be able to sell a client’s (sometimes inferior) product, we need to understand what its REAL advantages and disadvantages are, and avoid the areas where they are lacking. You don’t do that by wholesale buying into your client’s BS; you do it by forming an understanding of the products, for whom they might be better suited, and in what context.

Furthermore, if the client’s products are lacking, you could argue it’s it’s actually more important to understand why and where the competitors are better. How else are you going to make your client’s products better, or sell them more efficiently? Acting as if there is no competition, and ignoring where the competition has a leg up, means you are living in a bubble, and will make ill informed decisions on behalf of your client.

As marketers, we’re here to help the client market their products, we’re not here to pretend that they actually are better. The latter is, in fact, what is known as fraud, hucksterism and deception. Part of making the sale requires you understanding your audience’s need, and match it to the right product. If you are not representative of your audience, then you buying and using that product means you’re actually not being truthful. You can’t credibly tell a consumer a product is right for them based on your own mismatched, disingeous use and endorsement of that same product.

Sales is not about selling your product to ANYONE, nor is marketing about knowing how to convince ANYONE to buy that product. Marketing is about understanding the product, and finding the buyers for it (that is why it is called “marketing” to begin with, and why there is a reference to a “market”). Marketing is meant  to help clients navigate that market, not carpet bomb it with ads and fool people into buying products they don’t need.

Once you have successfully navigated the market, and identified the right buyer at the right time, and targeted them with the right message, your sales are going to be much more successful, because you are selling to an audience that actually needs your product, and would potentially become brand loyal for that very reason.

You cannot trick a person into buying a product that isn’t right for them, and then hope that they will come back to you for another purchase, or recommend your products to someone else. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Consumers learn from their experiences with bad (or ill-suited) products, and marketers believing otherwise need to take a reality pill.

Beyond the intricacies of marketing strategy, there’s also the consideration of what is right and what is wrong.

I don’t believe my employer should have the right to dictate what I do in my personal life, or how I spend my money, so I don’t think clients should have that right either. It’s just dumb, and it is showing a troubling lack of integrity – one that is pretending that agencies are always telling the truth about their clients’ products, and always believe in what they are selling, when this is in itself a lie.

The ultimate proof of you being truthful about a client’s product is not you buying it out of misplaced loyalty, but you explaining to the client why someone might NOT buy it. And, conversely, showing which people ARE buying it, so that consumers can judge for themselves if those buyers are anything like them.

If we worked for Bayer/Monsanto, would we have an obligation to become sick from using their poisonous products?

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