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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    « content is a bad word | Main | why »

    what's *really* on your client's mind these days?

    John Keats was the "live fast, die young" poet of the early nineteenth century.

    Okay, that's a lie – Byron and Shelley are far more qualified for that title. But he was a brilliant and unique voice who evolved quickly in the very few years he spent on the planet. And one of the things that enabled him to bloom in this way was what he called "negative capability" – the ability to put himself inside someone else, feel what they were feeling, and see the world as they saw it.

    It's a profound idea, one that has always stuck with me. And even though it's a bastardization of what Keats was up to, I think that trying to feel what someone else is feeling is a pretty valuable ability in marketing.

    I've been noodling what marketing entails for clients these days, from their point of view. And it's not pretty, but not because of the transition from a mass message culture to truly individual communications.

    It's ugly because there hasn't been a transition of marketing cultures – there's been a massive expansion of marketing cultures.

    Mass TV, radio and print advertising haven't gone away. Mass may not be the culturally sexy beast it was in the 1970s, but there continues to be a market and need for mass awareness messages. Same with direct marketing; I wouldn't be surprised if there's just as much DRTV on air now as 10 years ago. There's not as much direct mail, granted, but there continues to be a solid need for being in someone's mailbox with relevant and actionable messages. Out of home and point of sale? Still absolutely necessary. And promotions haven't gone away either; quite the opposite in fact, since digital has enabled not just contest entry but cool interaction and engagement.

    It took most clients I know five to ten years to wrap their heads around the Internet – how to do emails and banners that consumers would actually engage with, how to build sites they'd come to, and how they all related to each other.

    And then social media and mobile fucked it all up. No longer did you simply worry about driving traffic to your site, you had to be concerned with engaging people on whatever platform they were on, wherever they were, and being part of their community: MySpace, Blackberries, Facebook, iPhones, Twitter, LinkedIn, Android...

    Screenwriter William Goldman has a great quote, almost a rule, about Hollywood:

    "Nobody knows anything."

    And that's how marketing feels these days. Everyone has to be concerned with what's new and coming next, because Twitter and Facebook come almost out of nowhere for a lot of marketers, and then suddenly they were behind. But at the same time, all the old methods are still necessary too, and more than that, actually viable. (Remember, for all its new media buzz, most of Obama's fundraising in 2008 came through old school DM and emails.) Marketing teams have had to get bigger, or at least add a pantload of expertise, or simply do more in an economic environment that's been very resistant to new hiring. This while boards of directors and CEOs were all constantly talking about "getting out there" on social media, while still insisting on driving numbers.

    And no client's confident that they've got a good strategic overview of all those efforts, because even if you find a mix that works, with the pace of change being what it is, there's a good chance it won't work a year from now.

    Goldman has another great line about other folks who are in a very similar situation:

    “Studio executives are intelligent, brutally overworked men and women who share one thing in common with baseball managers: they wake up every morning of the world with the knowledge that sooner or later they're going to get fired.”

    Live fast and die young? Not quite. But add marketers to that last quote, and you have some sense of what's going on behind the scenes at your next client meeting. That's really what's on your client's mind.

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