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Is honesty really such a bad thing in commerce?

September 25, 2014
Haileybury Buildings - a somewhat dreary front cover design opens up into some surprising honesty from the author.

Haileybury Buildings – a somewhat dreary front cover design opens up into some surprising honesty from the author.

It is often quite striking in the push and shove of commercial life just how much can be achieved as a consequence of deception.

Whether this be a misleading copy line, a dubious sales claim to win a new account or a mendacious “early bird offer”, deception (or convincing people, as Genesis P. Orridge might have argued in the 1981 classic album 20 Jazz Funk Greats) has almost become part of the accepted language of trade.

It can be argued that this is because the “neighbourhood” of commercial language now has a performance grammar of its own. Customers, it seems, have been trained to relate to message rather than substance.

It seems that, as a consequence, they might be unable to determine honesty so instead opt for interpreting the language of message. The message which appears to be most credible is that which ultimately is believed – even if the syntax of message is not grounded in reality.

I was therefore delighted to read this preface from an obscure 1930s book about the history of the buildings at British public school, Haileybury College:

“It was never my intention that these few pages, written in an idle moment for my own pleasure, should see the light of day: friends, however, to whom I showed them urged me…” Thus, I believe, it is customary to begin the modest introduction. In this case nothing could be further from the truth. The friends to whom I showed this book, written with the express intention of publication, begged me, for the most part to burn or otherwise destroy it, saying that no good ever came of holding up the mirror to ugliness, that it was better to turn a blind eye to evils that could no longer be remedied.

Thus wrote Wilfrid Blunt in “The Haileybury Buildings” (1936). He has a certain honesty about the scope of his ambition which I find admirable.

Many years ago, I proposed a strapline for a publisher stating “Books for you, money for us”. It was never used. Although this might be taking honesty a little too far, it does often strike me that the fog of commercial grammar does little but lead to listlessness and brand weariness.

 

 

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Brands – how deep is your love?

June 10, 2014
Fry's Cocoa - Blighty's Best. Alas, the factory was taken over by Kraft of the USA, shut down, and now the brand is but a badge. Sic transit gloria mundi, we must say...

Fry’s Cocoa – Blighty’s Best. Alas, the factory was taken over by Kraft of the USA, shut down, and now the brand is but a badge. Sic transit gloria mundi, we must say…

It is argued that true love is repaid by deeper investigation. This probably explains why marriages based on the visual alone rarely stand the test of time. It also explains why those based on responsive interrogation are more likely to stay the course. Given that brand marketing today is based more on the former than the latter, what is the way forward in today’s image-conscious world?

Substance, it is argued, engenders greater longevity of emotional loyalty than the fickleness of beauty. Yet today, most brands – those led by the brand strategists rather than the engineers – are designed around the brand conceit of emotional involvement. There is, surely, a conflict of interest between the producer and the marketer?

A failure of theory?

Today, following academic process, marketers and brand strategists often obsess more about perception than reality. They have been taught that a brand is a set of emotional values existing between a customer and a company to the mutual advantage of both.

Some brand strategists even adopt marketing strategies which have no strategy save campaign “recall”. The product comes second to the vanity of the strategist. Ego comes before message. The brand has become the creative’s toy.

Consequently, we are told that a new model car is a “classic” before the epithet is earned. We are told a new suite is “beautiful” as if we are unable by our own inquisition to deconstruct quality and aesthetics. In time-honoured style, we are made to believe that a brand will somehow convey the success or good looks of a “celebrity” onto ourselves. And tomorrow we wake and our lover has gone. But we saw it on TV.

The education of sheep?

Dutifully, like sheep to the dip, we as customers pass along the line to be processed and made sterile by our purchases. If we buy the “wrong” product, we are lampooned by friends and neighbours. If we buy the “right” product, everyone wants to be associated with us. Or so the marketers tell us. As Flanders and Swann might have said, “when we started buying brands, when we started making friends”…

If we ran our lives in the way many marketers try to get us to buy new products and services, we would all be on our second and third marriages by now. This is why the conceit of the brand as marketing apogee is flawed. After we have married the page 3 model or the super-hunk male, do we really want to spend the rest of our lives in the inanity of a tumble-down seaside town, our ear drums destroyed by an endless drawl of broken sentences and corrupted vowels?

But, as Jean-Marc Lehu states:

“A brand that builds relationships with consumers solely on the cognitive bases of its promise is a brand with a promise that will always be prey to the direct or indirect challenges of its competitors … In a study conducted for Young & Rubicam group, Agres (1990) clearly showed that in advertising terms, the combination of an emotive benefit and a material benefit produced superior results to the outcomes of either one of these benefits in isolation.”

(Jean-Marc Lehu – Brand Rejuvenation (Kogan Page, 2007))

Airbrush beauty is but a cracked mirror, playing to the weaknesses of our inner consciousness. So it is argued that responsible marketers should avoid the promise of false love.  It is argued that marketers have a duty to profess honesty and, in so doing, attract those who are also honest. By conveying self-evident credibility, love is more likely.

The creation of loyalty through truthfulness

As in marriage, so in marketing – true love creates loyalty; critically for companies, loyalty brings costs down. This of course brings us to the nub of the issue and to an understanding of why marketing must be true: loyalty is delivered by performance.

Long after the marketers have gone home, or moved on to their next job, or been sacked, the product is all that’s left to burn in the hearts of those who relate to it. Consequently, it is suggested, it is a mistake to hire differing brand agencies in an attempt to rejuvenate brands by marketing alone. To do so is to risk all your assets on one roll of the dice. Once the brand conceit falls away, the customer gets the roving eye.

It is argued therefore that companies need once more to understand what it is they do and why they do it and to own their brands responsibly. In owning their brands, companies need to be fully alert to what they do and not rest on their laurels.

Crucially, they need to appreciate that the solution to their problems is not marketing cosmetics or the plastic surgery of brand strategy divorced from product.  Marketing activity must reflect the substance of the business. Business must stay alert to customers. Quality must always be conveyed.

As Professor Malcolm McDonald famously said, marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.

The duplicity of the offer is the enemy of credibility

November 13, 2013
Image of Crunchie offer at Tesco

Credit Crunchie? Tesco’s spurious pricing methods are a cause for deep concern.

It is an unpleasant side effect of marketing methodology that the desire to create the illusion of acceptability often overtakes the marketer’s responsibility to uphold the truth of consumer experience. We may consider this to be unacceptable. If we do not, then as marketers we should. Or we have lost our moral compass. Because marketing has become mendacity.

If life teaches us one thing it is this: experience defines knowledge. But today, marketers have created a new tactic: the attempt to disguise the experience of the many by the exigencies of the few.

Marketers have come to believe that their inherent cleverness is more worthy of a greater worship by their peers than a duty to enrich the lives of those who buy the products they promote.

Marketers and spin doctors have allowed personal arrogance and conceptual vanity to become more important than managing the greater truth: the experience of the greater public.

Marketers and spin doctors, cynically, believe “crisis communication” – the art of turning bad news into better news – is better than the honourable response to heartfelt concerns. Tell people a story, tell it often enough, and what was once incredible becomes “the truth”.

Except “message” is often far from the truth. Let’s look at three examples…

Political Concern? Pull the other one…

We may start at the  top and work down. Today according to the Labour Party, a left-of-centre political party in the United Kingdom , we live in an era where there is a”cost of living crisis”. According to this party’s message machine, we live in an age whereby the unavoidable is ennobled to the status of the politically changeable.

Yet we know by experience that it is not the cost of living which has created a crisis but the failure of politicians to ensure long term strategy for inherently-owned national wealth. We know as consumers that the price for the destruction of UK manufacturing and national infrastructure has been to ensure that national destiny is transferred into the hands of others.

We know as consumers that today’s PPE-educated young politicians have probably never worked in a foundry, blown glass, drawn wire, laid a keel, glazed a pot or split a slate. We know they are theorists born from books, not visionaries born from experience. We know that they have delivered unto us the Britain created by their text books and not their graft. We know that the privatisation of everything has enabled politicians to wipe their hands of responsibility.

So we know that the “cost of living crisis” is best described as the “price of political complacency crisis”. Politicians over the years have placed the importance of message over their national duty and now they expect us to believe that the opposite is true.

Safe in our hands? It depends whose hands…

In our second example, we can look at the spurious messages touted by the recently part-privatised Royal Mail, an inefficient and largely un-mechanised UK national mail delivery service. Here, that organisation’s marketers tout that delivery is “safe in our hands” and whose Christmas slogan (at the time of writing) is “we love parcels“.

But let’s look closely at this. According to one report, Royal Mail (previously known as the Royal Mail) paid out over £1,000,000 a month in compensation for items “lost in the post” and in 2006/7 (the last year for available information) paid compensation in only approximately half the cases. It appears too that in the same year, one postal worker a day was caught stealing from the mail.

In the recent privatisation of Royal Mail, little mention was made of employees, paid for and pensioned by the state, happy to allow items to “go missing” from the company which paid them and the state which they served. Little mention also was made of the otiose insurance claims procedure whereby “missing” items ultimately are assessed for compensation (or, as we have seen in the Daily Mail figures cited above, result in only half the customers receiving some form of compensation).

Every customer in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is well aware of the dichotomy between the bland messages of marketing excellence and the actual experience of public sector complacency and operose online customer interaction tools.

We love parcels? If only they loved customers.

Credit Crunchie – the deception of the masses…

Which brings us neatly to our third example.,Tesco, a British supermarket whose market share has recently been declining but who have attempted to portray themselves as national saviours at a time of financial hardship. In the UK, many people who have little choice but to shop at this company’s stores are reassured by the overwhelming concern the company has for their welfare.

Image of Crunchie bar offer at Tesco

Credit Crunchie 2. Or should that be 3 for 2? Same product, different prices makes every little help

According to the marketers, Tesco is doing its level best to make sure “every little helps“. Indeed, in our own local store, Tesco is happy to promote that it is helping us to “spend less every day“.

How can these claims be supported, we ask? Recently it was our experience to see a large “Thank Crunchie its Christmas” (160 gramme) pack for sale at our local branch of Tesco for £4.00. The pack contained 4 bars of the Cadbury confection (now owned of course by the US company Kraft, following yet another act of political folly by the UK’s political classes) in one large wrapper.

Preying on the minds of somnambulant cattle lulled into an overwhelming sense of belief in Tesco’s altruistic intentions, the supermarket is able to engage its customers in the “fun” of Christmas. What better to put in your child’s stocking than a giant Crunchie bar?

Except there, on the next shelf, another offer presided: Buy one Crunchie (40 grammes) for 60 pence. That equates to four Crunchie bars for £2.40 (not £4.00) OR – special offer – buy three Crunchie bars (120 grammes) for the price of two (£1.20).

So, working through Tesco’s labyrinthine pricing methodology, a customer has three choices: buy the 4-pack for £4.00 OR buy four bars for £2.40 OR buy a three for two and one extra bar for a grand total of £1.80. Every little helps.

Of course it does, because the next day we were in the same store and the four pack was now on “special offer” at £2.00 (because by pricing the pack at £4.00 it was able then to say that the price had been “reduced”)…

Marketers owe their customers better than this. The future of Britain is not about message, it’s about delivery. At A Brand Day Out we say “Marketers – cut the crap” and we say to business “don’t give your marketers a free hand”.

Engage the Enemy more Closely – Apple

July 1, 2013
Image of Apple Staff

Apple – a marketing focus on experience rather than technology is driving sales.

Horatio Nelson’s famous instruction – engage the enemy more closely – has now entered the world of mobile phones with Apple’s new “California” campaign. What can we learn from this to help us in our own work?

Our greatest strength, it is argued, lies in our inherent capability. Marketers who choose to make claims not supported by customer experience are sowing the seeds of instability and decline for their companies. Thus, having revolutionised the world of mobile phones with the iPhone, Apple is now having to defend itself from Samsung, Blackberry and other Android telephones.

How is it doing this? By engaging the enemy more closely. Apple has spotted that rival Android phones are all lacking a certain something. What “something”? None other than the holy grail of marketing success: consumer experience. And Apple has this in spades.

Look, feel, interaction, quality, usability. These are sophisticated traits which Apple’s competitors lack. Apple is now fighting back with a marketing campaign of profound impact – it doesn’t shout about features, it shouts about the customer. Or, more precisely, the connoisseur customer. He or she who knows what they want and knows where to get it.

So Apple has created a campaign which is not about product features but about the consumer. You, me, the world. It is argued here that Apple is able to do this because in the very first instance they focused on the consumer and not on the technology. As a consequence, they have a powerful marketing perception which no amount of technological wizardry can combat.

Perception in marketing is everything. But perception based on fact – inherent truth – is the strongest of all. Solid brand perception engenders loyalty. It also enables effective pricing and positioning strategies and, as a consequence, sustainable long term profitability.

How can we learn from Apple? The trick is not to be like Apple but to be like yourself. What is your strength? Why are you different? Why should anyone believe you? Do you really, really, really put the customer first? Yes? Well it’s time to ask them about their experience of you – do they really TRUST you?

Dressing your staff in branded tee-shirts but delivering a dreary product and poor experience will do nothing other than cause cognitive dissonance and consumer cynicism. Consistent delivery is therefore fundamental.

Only when you know yourself are you able to be stronger – to engage the enemy more closely. The strongest brands need fundamentally to be unquestionable.

For many years, A Brand Day Out has campaigned for honesty in marketing because honesty attracts and retains customers. Deception always fails in the end.

Failing to use good English is costing us sales

April 10, 2013

For the consumer, truth is made demonstrable following the personal satisfaction by categoric examination of recognisable component elements. Fail to substantiate a claim and credibility collapses. This is why integrated marketing communications are critical to commercial success. Yet many brands are let down by poor quality communication. Integration falls at the wayside of output necessity.

Image of Lord Nelson

Engage the enemy more closely! Nelson’s order is as relevant to marketers as it is at sea. Discipline of message is all

In Great Britain, and in other English-speaking countries, we are blessed with a language of fundamental power, flexibility and performance. Eloquence combined with subtlety can be used to extol the virtue of anything from a humble clout nail to a complex aero engine.

Yet many companies have little understanding of message or its fundamental significance in a world where perception is all. Many marketing teams today do not work with the power of the language. There has been a decline in the acceptance of good English and a preference for poor diction, imperfect grammar and “dumbing down”. An obsession with playing to the gallery has replaced a focus on disciplined rigour. Germany, on the other hand, does not tolerate poor quality.

Yet it is surprising that many in Britain take the view that issues such as correct English, detailed definition and fundamental quality can be ignored. Only recently, Waterstone’s felt that the apostrophe was an irrelevance and Mid Devon Council have recently followed suit. These organisations feel it is easier to cower in the shadow of ignorance and to “move with the times” than to enforce “old fashioned” values. Rubbish.

Quality and loyalty, I argue, are defined by attention to detail. We know from bitter experience how British manufacturing has suffered by lazy, surface-led marketing and has ignored the substance of fundamental product delivery. Marketing spin, like political spin, is viewed – rightly – with contempt. The test of any message, therefore, is in the consistent demonstrability of self-evident fact.

Yet managerial indiscipline leads to collapse of message. In their weakness, managers paying scant attention to detail can rot their brands from within. What use is a well-written brochure if a website is unusable? What use a well-designed website if a poorly-written email never leads a consumer there? What use any marketing collateral lest it speak the same language – in a disciplined way – as its fellow components elsewhere in the marketing mix? What use a team of marketers if they know not what they do and have no direction from management? What use a sales person who cuts price to grab the sale and ignores all other marketing message?

Discipline, says Robert Fripp, is never an end in itself, only a means to an end. So it is that discipline in marketing message requires fundamental attention to detail in order to create inherent credibility and, ultimately, sales. So it was recently that the appointment of Kent Youth’s Police and Crime Commissioner,Paris Brown, did enormous reputational damage to the recruitment practices of that police force as a result of crass communications not matched to service delivery. Self over substance, we might say, is a curse of the modern age. An indisicipline of thought process led to significant reputational damage. 

Image of George Osborne

Mockney equals mendacity? Rigour in communication is crucial if message is to be believed.

Yet message structure is also let down by message presentation. Modern politicians from the Miliband brothers to George Osborne and Ed Balls have all adopted a multi-regional “mockney” approach to diction in order to appear as “normal” rather than appear to be “out of touch”.  The result is a lack of credibility. Indeed, careful study of TV performances of these individuals and others reveals that the greater their use of “mockney”, the more likely it is that their message is uncertain at best and mendacious at worst. 

If we seek to speak in language which aims to show affinity rather than being structured to define truth then we will fail in our objectives. Such an approach is rightly seen as patronising; a classic example is the current advertising campaign for Ariel washing powder where two girls are speaking with unfeasible accents as they attempt to portray “today’s youth”. One only needs to observe the stereotypical presentation of flat-capped northerners or be-kilted ginger-haired Scotsmen to realise that this form of presentation is flawed and divisive.

Ordered, structured language – supported by packaged evidence which can be objectively assessed – leads to reader/listener conviction. Squawked claims from a soapbox do little other than to excite the basest of instincts. So it is that when we create any marketing communication it must speak in a consistent fashion so as to withstand the scrutiny of probing examination. Wherever a brand is “touched” – from strapline to sales presentation – consistency will create a much greater likelihood of success.

So marketing message – and message management – is a crucial discipline. Who is the target market? What do we offer? Why is it necessary? What will it provide? How can we prove it? If we make a claim here, are we substantiating it there? Wherever the marketing message touches the consumer – on whatever part of the customer journey – we must hold fast. Indiscipline of message will cost us sales.

Is the marketing of gambling unacceptable?

March 5, 2013
Image of Foxy Bingo

Foxy Bingo just one example. Is it right to promote gambling as a happy lifestyle choice?

Gambling is a business which promotes the possibility of success as being more likely than the probability of failure. Now liberalised in the UK and supported by politicians advocating the freedom to “have a flutter”, gambling has advanced onto our television screens, tablets and phones as a lifestyle choice worthy of envy. Is this acceptable?

The pursuit of excellence, corrupted?

Let us start with the man (or the woman; the consequence is the same). From the moment of his birth, it is suggested that a man’s duty to himself and to his peers is to be excellent. As perfection is impossible, even – as we know – among those most godly, we can see that a man’s duty is instead to be as excellent as possible, in the circumstances. This is, of course, difficult.

For marketers, it presents a problem of a conflict of ethics versus profession. It is the duty, by dint of his (or her) profession, for the marketer to strip away man’s excellence as a deer does the bark of a tree. Temptation leads the mind into forests new so marketing aims to lead us into new experiences, new products, new services. Marketing is the discipline of commercial temptation.

As a consequence, the man who through life maintains as much of his excellence as is possible is a stronger man than he who by distraction weakens. Consequently, therefore, it can be argued that the weaker man is the marketer’s target and that marketing in such a way may be described as dishonourable.  

This is a harsh judgment. However, we can also observe that honourable marketing is that which improves the excellence of the man by stripping away as little as possible of his own soul. We as marketers achieve honour by the bettering of the lives of our companies’ prospective customers.

Yet in human kind, ugliness of spirit is revealed when the good in man is removed. Arguably, marketing which as its consequence reveals an inner ugliness rather than an outer perfection can be seen to be corrupting.

So we must challenge ourselves as marketers as to whether we prefer an inner morality or a blind following of professional duty. This is a difficult contest to manage.

The archer’s paradox, the marketer’s paradox

We know that when an arrow is loosed, it flicks from side to side in paradox of its apparent forward momentum. Marketing is just like the archer’s paradox – placing forces in the way of momentum; in this case the momentum of man to live life honourably and true to himself.

But primacy of moral compass is not necessarily the motivation of men. For marketers, it is well known that a driving force in life is to be better than one’s peers. As Toxophilus says to Philologus in Roger Ascham’s treatise on archery of 1545: “When a man striveth to be better than another, he will gladly use that thing, though it be never so painful, wherein he would excel.”

We can see therefore that in the satisfaction of that need, marketing can be justified. To offer a better drill, a stronger file, a smoother plane, a marketer can make the carpenter better at his bench. Excellence drives excellence and progress is made.

But in the promotion of gambling, as also in pay day loans or drinking, it is debatable as to the higher state achieved as a consequence of commercial transaction. In gambling, the conceit lies in the likelihood – however unlikely – of achieving wealth beyond the price tendered in the bet. Marketing promotes a consumer reward which is statistically unlikely. 

Should any marketer, irrespective of his agnosticism, promote gambling as the desirable outcome of his activities? We are aware today of the not insignificant issue of the problem gambler; when gambling laws are more liberal, a consequence of marketing is an increase of human suffering.

Marketing and the problem gambler

Image of online gambling advert

Sex sells. Glamour is often used to sell gambling.

To help assuage their guilt in this matter, gambling companies advise “problem gamblers” to seek advice from recognised charities.

What exactly is a problem gambler? Someone who loses their home through addiction? Someone who is prepared to cheat on – or steal from – their partner or colleagues? Someone who is deluded, such as those who believe the conceit that in “playing” on their laptops in the loneliness of their bedrooms they are dressed in a white tuxedo in some Monaco casino? Is it the case that a problem gambler believes they are wealthier than they are? Or will be, one day?

Often the reality of the problem gambler is a tired bedsit, a rotting terraced house in a collapsed industrial town, the boredom of a housewife with little to do, the alcoholic with untreatable addictive tendencies.  Occasionally it will be some wealthy lord, as in history, who fritters away his inheritance on the unreliability of a horse’s legs. But rarely. Gambling appears disproportionately to attract the poor in pursuit of freedom, the troubled in the pursuit of happiness. And footballers.

But if these stereotypes are typical, and the suffering so great, is it appropriate for gambling to promote itself using the notion of the exhilarating experience of winning rather the much more prevalent experience of losing? Is it right to promote small lists of winners, rather than significantly larger lists of people whose losses paid for the winners’ winnings? Is it more truthful to offer signing-on “bonuses” to new players rather than promote the inevitable withdrawals from the “players'” bank accounts which form the real business model? Alas, as in all marketing, smiling girls are more endearing than desperate men, sex sells more than sobriety.

But those who suffer at the hands of addiction are the dark shadows that lurk behind the curtain; so famously described by Dickens as Ignorance and Want. As Toxophilus says, “And if there were any so desperate a person that would begin his hell in earth, I trow he should not find hell more like hell itself, than the life of those men in which daily haunt and use such ungracious games.”

It is an unpleasant truth that in times of recession, spending on gambling – like claims on PPI – increases. At the time of greatest vulnerability, gambling appeals as offering an easy way out. And marketers are tempting us. Yet the truth of the model is that gambling companies cannot remain profitable by rewarding desire to all participants. Profit and winnings are the fruits of loss.

Gambling industry statistics – a problem gambler in every hundred

The result is that, according to Gamble Aware between 0.7% and 0.9% of gamblers are defined as problem gamblers: nearly one person per 100, 7-9 people in 1000, or 7-9,000 in every million. The NHS estimates that there may be 250,000 problem gamblers in the UK.

As we have seen, it is not entirely clear what a problem gambler is. But we can be sure that it is not someone who enjoys a flutter of a few pounts every few months on a horse. And it is clear that every “problem” is a tragedy, with more than one player as partners, family members and relatives all have to live with the consequences.

To offset negative publicity, marketers advise PR to position companies – whether gambling company, arms supplier or a tobacco producer – as responsible. Under the banner of corporate and social responsibility (CSR), companies advocate positions to offset the potential harm of their activities. In the case of the gambling industry it does this by paying £5m of its profits to “help fund gambling-related research, education and treatment” and claiming that the problem gambling figures are lower than in the USA or Australia.

Yet it is a condition that gambling begets gambling. The more a man loses, the more he seeks to redress his loss and, as Toxophilus observed, “Now if a simple man happen once in his life to win of such players, then they will entreat him to keep company whilst he hath lost all again“.

It can be appreciated that it cannot be in the interest of a gambling organisation to encourage the winning gambler to walk away. In order to generate repeat business it must encourage addiction in some form, and this addiction must as a consequence of the business model produce more individual loss than it does for the company. Personal loss drives corporate earnings.

Inherent truth

So the question for marketers is whether it is acceptable to portray gambling as an industry based on the successful performance of the few rather than the unsuccessful performance of the many? Is this truthful marketing?

We have spoken before on A Brand Day Out about the need for inherent, demonstrable truth in marketing in order for consumers to make an informed decision. If marketing cannot be honest in how it promotes gambling then can a marketer justifiably work on gambling assignments?

Image of Online Gambling website

Offers abound – online gambling sites encourage participation.

If we accept that it is the duty of man to be excellent, can the marketing of a product which leads to the misfortune of the majority who take part in it be deemed an honourable and excellent professional pursuit, even if “problem” gamblers make up a small proportion of the customer base? Not forgetting that “small” is 250,000 people, enough to fill Manchester United’s ground 3 times over with people to spare.

Toxophilus guides us in our estimation of this question: “if a man consider how many ways and how many things he loseth thereby; for first he loseth his goods, he loseth his time, he loseth quickness of wit, and all good lust to other things; he loseth honest company, he loseth his good name and estimation, and at last, if he leave it not, loseth God and heaven and all; and, instead of these things, winneth at length either hanging or hell“.

Ascham wrote that in 1545. If our job as marketers is potentially to cause through gambling the avoidable unhappiness of others – even if it be the unhappiness of just one man or woman –  then we ask questions of ourselves. Given how hard it is to earn £1000, would our mothers be proud if, through our art, we encourage others to lose it in an instant?

Note: This post is something I have been wanting to write for some time as marketing of gambling has proliferated in recent years. It is written from the point of view of compassion, not first-hand experience of this corrosive issue; nor do I intend any personal criticism of those who work in the industry.

If you know of any problem gamblers, or are affected by the misery of gambling addiction, the following sites may be useful:

Gamblers Anonymous

GamCare

NHS Gambling Addiction Help Page

The Lamp of Truth – Marketing’s duty if it is to grow and retain customers

February 18, 2013
Acceptable marketing? Can marketing today really be truthful or has it lost its way in a sea of vanity?

Acceptable marketing? Can marketing today really be truthful or has it lost its way in a sea of vanity?

Truth and manifest integrity today are more important than ever to businesses seeking to remain competitive and relevant in customers’ minds. Without truth – demonstrably defined by self-evident fact – businesses and brands will die. But what is “truth”? What is “the truth”? 

In his “Seven Lamps of Architecture” written in 1849, the artist, philanthropist and social commentator John Ruskin attempted to define the aesthetics of architectural honesty by deconstructing the forces which lay behind it. Among these seven lamps, the lamp of truth serves to guide us, as marketers, even today.Let us reflect upon his writing for a moment.

He suggests: “How difficult must the maintenance of that authority (truth) be, which, while it has to restrain the hostility of the worst principles of man, has also to restrain the disorders of the best – which is continually assaulted by the one and betrayed by the other, which regards with the same severity the lightest and boldest violations of its law!

What, indeed is truth? In commerce, we cannot be sure. This is indicative of the forces which act upon the marketer: at once a desire to sell a product yet also to create an image of it in the customer’s mind which may indeed be deceitful. No object means the same thing to every man or woman. Yet marketing messages and products are often tailored to the generic whole.

This must imply a level of deceit, irrespective of whether the marketer believes in an acceptable truth, because a general message to appeal to all must be inefficient in its application to the individual. The technique applied therefore is that “the truth” is defined by the fact that only some of what he or she says must in some part be acceptable to the recipient. Can we accept this way of thinking?

Do we today, through the acknowledged depravity of the world in which we live, advocate partial truth as acceptable – more acceptable than total truth? Total truth, after all, is more likely to be less relevant, commercially, than generic truth by dint of the fact that a refined truth is more likely to be acceptable to a smaller number of people. And therefore – unless we operate in a purist value-based pricing universe – less profitable.

Is there a compromise which can render our approach acceptable to ourselves if not to our customers? Some may argue that at point of purchase or renewal a customer is not wise to the truth: he/she decides to purchase based on the sum of all the facts available. Consequently, truth is defined in its majesty by the inherent limits of the customer’s indolence.

This may indeed show us how we can refine a truth if not be comfortable with it. In judging a product or service, customers are prey to numerous forces: neighbourhood pricing; issues of volume; perception of quality; perceived substitutes; unique attributes etc. So a marketer – using appropriate segmentation techniques – can be reasonably comfortable with the manner of his/her persuasion.

Yet many marketers fail – and many sales people also. Driven by sales targets to move stock, truth often falls at the wayside of necessity. Partial truths to generate a sale replace inherent truths – what some call brand integrity. The indolence of customer perception is replaced by the idleness of persuasive capability.

The use of marketing under pressure results in post-purchase cognitive dissonance (PPCD). This marketing expression should leave all of us – at least those with a conscience – cold. Because it means a customer believes that he/she has been lied to – they are uncomfortable with their purchase. If customers perceive deception – a narcissistic legerdemain – then marketing has failed.

It could be argued that marketers and sales people guilty of inciting PPCD should be seen as dangerous and treacherous threats to a business. The damage to brand perception, emotion, warmth and credible promise wrought by PPCD is – particularly today in a social media environment – one of the greatest risks businesses can be exposed to.

As Ruskin writes: “Nobody wants ornaments in this world, but everybody wants integrity. All the fair devices that ever were fancied, are not worth a lie. Leave your walls as bear as a planed board, or build them of baked mud and chopped straw, if need be; but do not rough-case them with falsehood”.

Falsehood, the deception of inefficient and indolent marketing, is a canker on the branches of commerce which must be cut out. Demonstrable truth, as we have argued before on A Brand Day Out, is the beacon which will guide prosperity through the darkness of uncertainty.

As Ruskin concludes when he cites the destruction of earlier architectural aesthetics and the decadence brought about by architectural affectation developed out of simpler and more pure design methodology:

It was not the robber, not the fanatic, not the blasphemer, who sealed the destruction they had wrought; the war, the wrath, the terror, might have worked their worst, and the strong walls would  have risen, and the slight pillars would have started again, from under the hand of the destroyer. But they could not rise out of the ruins of their own violated truth.

Ruskin wrote these words about architecture. We might argue that our own listless vacuity be seen as equally abhorrent in a world where marketing views its success more in terms of what it sees in the mirror than how it affects and relates with the customer.

Honi soit qui mal y pense?