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Marketing is not a department

The campaigns that no-one wanted point the way to tomorrow’s social marketing.

The campaigns that no-one wanted point the way to tomorrow’s social marketing

David MacGregor

[Advertising]

Do kids still grow up hearing fairy tales? You know the terrifying morality parables that would teach you to be justifiably scared of the world—even worlds that don’t exist—and creatures more horrible than your teacher in primary school.

My favourite tale was Rumpelstiltskin, and I’m still fascinated by the idea of spinning straw into gold. It seems like a variation of the task the alchemists set themselves to turn lead into gold (which, while it gave us the origins of modern scientific method, was a ridiculous pursuit because if gold was made common it might as well be lead).

Often in business and marketing we fail to see the opportunities because we think that mundane things are worthless. In fact, there is truth in the expression “where there is muck, there is brass”.

Some of my most successful campaigns have been jobs that others thought hardly worth bothering with. The problem with being handed a huge budget for a beer campaign, for example, is that big budgets come with conditions and constraints. When there’s so much at stake there will be many more conservative forces at play, including marketing and product managers whose necks are on the block.

The first awards I won were for press ads for Metro and North & South magazines. None of the senior creative staff wanted a bar of the account—it was press only, with no TV. They left the door open for me and I was quite happy with that. Better than brochures.

Using social media intelligently carves off a great deal of the emphasis on craft, such as design and art direction. But it takes a good deal of skill to condense a message down to a Twitter-sized 140 characters and still maintain a conversation

These days money may still talk, but budgets are being gripped so tightly where it counts that their timbre is slightly reedy. Marketers must be prepared to get stuck in and do things they would never have considered before. Who would have thought that CEOs would engage in personal dialogue with their customers? Richard Branson uses Twitter, the micro-blogging platform. His investment? A few moments each week. The result? Hard to measure, but as part of a programme of social engagement, ultimately monumental.

The fascinating aspect of social media is that human capital is the greatest cost. The platforms, like Facebook, Ning, Twitter and MySpace, are usually free. One of the greatest impacts on advertising is that using social media intelligently carves off a great deal of the emphasis on craft, such as design and art direction or commercials direction. Disciplines like strategic planning will persist (though grand insights on which to base bellicose ad campaigns will be replaced by perpetual call and response, like an ongoing mating ritual between marketers and their customers). Writing will continue to be valuable—it takes a good deal of skill to condense a message down to a Twitter-sized 140 characters and still maintain a conversation.

In many ways it brings to life the idea proposed by Theodore Levitt, a seminal marketing thinker, that marketing is not a department. It’s the mundane straw of everyday interactions with consumers that will ultimately be turned into gold. Those who can follow and listen to what people are saying, relative to brands and daily life, will have the timeliest insights on which to base their next ad (let’s just keep calling them ads for old time’s sake). Maybe with a closer connection to real people, ads will seem less like fairy tales.