1. Marketers Cannot Define What They Do

You just so happen to know 100 structural engineers, and you ask them, one by one, to define exactly what structural engineering is. How widely do you think the answers would vary?


All 100 will invariably state some permutation of: “we build large structures, like buildings and bridges, and we make sure they work as they should—integrity and function.”

If you perform the same exercise with orthopedic surgeons, pilots, bartenders, and prosecutors, then measure how different their answers are, again, variance will likely be very low. Prosecutors convict, bartenders mix, orthopods fix.

However, if you pose this question to advertising people—even those who are supposed to know—you will likely wonder whether they come from the same planet. Don’t believe me?

Heidi Cohen actually asked 72 marketing professionals, some quite famous, some erudite scholars who should have a concrete definition.

The variance in the answers is off the charts, all over the yard like lawn fudge.

Exhibit A:
Marketing is products that don’t come back and consumers that do. Steve Dawson – President, Walkers Shortbread Inc.”

Imagine your six-year old asks you what marketing is and you answer with the above sentence. Now imagine throwing that out to Coca-Cola’s chief marketer. Oops. See ya, thanks for playing.

Exhibit B:
Marketing is branding, naming, pricing, and the bridge between paid and earned media. It is NOT sales. Gini Dietrich.”

Imagine what David Ogilvy would say about the “NOT sales” part. And if it’s not sales, seriously, what is the point? Isn’t naming part of branding, the really big part? Paid media to create earned media…no thanks, the imperative of capitalism is revenue, er, sales. Social engagement does not pay your salary. 

Exhibit C:
Marketing is helping people buy your product or service. Jason Falls – Social Media Explorer”

“Can I help you?” Sales clerks are now referred to as “marketing”? The wonders never cease.

In the best case, answers were somewhere in the cosmic vicinity of a cogent definition. In the worst, absurd. I encourage you to read them all, and think literally about what they are attempting to say.

Compare this to the structural engineers who can define accurately what it is they do, and feel the disquiet well up inside you.

Praveen Vaidyanathan is a bloke I follow on Twitter. He took the time to assemble 700 “agency philosophies,” into a single post. I’ll let you be the judge of how useful this is. However, in the preamble, he states: “Whether it is the process or the outcome, nothing in advertising is clear-cut. So how could there possibly be a set philosophy or step-by-step framework that guarantees effective solutions?”

No guarantee of an effective solution? That’s a steaming pile of reality-check for an industry that charges $750 billion per year for an attempt. The CFOs of the world just felt their lunch come up.

“Half of my ad spend is wasted, I just don’t know which half,” said John Wanamaker in the early 20th Century.

In essence, Praveen is saying that there is no right way, and agencies are charging billions in client adspend to…take their best guess? No guaranteed outcomes? Aye carumba. In some circles, this is called gambling, in others it’s called fraud.

Extending the logic, if you are evaluating agency partners, then via the increasingly complex RFP-pitch process, you are concluding that “those guys” [Dentsu, JWT] are better guessers than “these guys” [Droga5, Ogilvy]. Well done.

(Never mind that agency people change companies every two years, taking their ideas with them. Small detail.)

Consider this: humans have evolved to do the bare minimum. Those who kept to their caves and, comparatively, exposed themselves to danger less, survived. 

Agency people get paid regardless. They are not penalized for any lackluster or negative business results. If you, as an agency creative, can get paid just to proffer up your best guess, regardless of the outcome, why strain yourself?

“Hi, welcome to Advertising Agency Hand-Tossed Artisanal Pizza, can I take your order?”
“Hi, I would like the Japanese burdock root, tandoori organic free-range chicken, and beer-marinated-pineapple pizza, please.”
“We love your choice! Great pizza. We are pro hand-tossers, and need to let you know that we’ll try our best, but however the pizza comes out is…how it comes out. It may be a gooey lump of dough, it may be a charred ball of carbon. But we have your best interests in mind! Whatever the outcome, our artisanal pizza will cost you $87.”


You would turn on your heel and be out the door in a flash. (Right? Right?!)

2. Fixed Process vs. Guaranteed Outcomes

Question: You would never tolerate this at a pizza joint, why do you tolerate it with your advertising?
Honest answer: you have had no alternative.
(That is, until now. Oh yes, keep reading)

There are certain professionals we need to pay to try: trauma surgeons, lawyers, maybe money managers. No getting around that. But there are others we currently pay to try, and should not, teachers and consultants among them, but marketers sit at the top of the list.

Domino’s Pizza and structural engineering have something in common: the processes they use to produce their products vary and adapt to guarantee fixed outcomes.

Pizzas come in assorted flavors and varieties, requiring different ingredients, cook times vary, and all of this must be accounted for to create a product that is within tolerance levels of acceptability: a well-made, well-cooked pizza.

Burnt, raw, or wrong? Make it again.

Engineering: building sizes, shapes, height, function all vary, but in the end, a structure with integrity must be the result. The process varies, the outcome is guaranteed.

Advertising, on the other hand, follows fixed processes: “we have a strategy framework that involves brainstorming our opinions of a target and a creative process that results in lots of sticky notes on the wall, then decisions by committee. What happens at the end of this is an advertising execution of some sort, and what, exactly, that will do for your business is anyone’s guess. But we believe in brand intimacy, so there’s that.”

Fixed process, and god only knows what will squeeze out the other end of it.

This famous cartoon by xkcd:

See the sociologist on the left looking off-frame? She is watching the advertising people taking selfies, complimenting their expensive eyewear, admiring well-executed chin stubble, and fawning over who has the most mysterious and contemplative facial expression in their sepia-grayscale social media profile shot.

Here is my definition of marketing. I’ll put on my narcissist hat and quote myself:
Marketing is revenue generation via the triggering of consumer decision in a stimulus-response fashion by way of cognitively resonant communication.” — Christopher Demetrakos

We call this PsyCom, and it is the third major evolution in advertising, after TV and digital. I will expound upon this in the next post. Stay tuned. 

Christopher Demetrakos

Christopher Demetrakos

Neuroscientist, architect of PsyCom®, a model that reads psych traits of audience clusters, used to trigger consumer decision. Founder & CEO of mnzt.io

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