Those of you who are trying to be Decent Marketers are no doubt confronted with a wave of snickering at your overwrought concern for the common man. I've been reading a very interesting book called Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison that led me to thinking further about marketing reform, profit, and decency. Many people look at me like I'm crazy when I suggest it might be a good idea to chill out a bit on the desperate need to sell, sell, sell at all costs. I simply feel that we marketers still look at people as though they haven't much choice in the matter of being marketed to -- that we can outsmart them, daze and confuse them into buying -- and I don't like it. It's like watching an entire industry transform into the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, rubbing our hands together and sneering "I'll get you, my pretty."
I feel like we've fully adopted the philosophy of P.T. Barnum, as Redfield describes him in her book.
"People liked to be humbugged, declared P.T. Barnum. They need sizzle and flair to lighten their otherwise 'drudging practicalness': they long to catch fire, be bedazzled, be a part of something that delights them, excites them, and binds them to others. They want someone to splash their world with color; someone, as Barnum put it, to 'throw up sky-rockets.'
Color and bedazzlement can work, and I wholeheartedly agree that we all need entertainment. But all of life is not about entertainment, and many of us do not suffer from drudging practicalness. The P.T. Barnum approach is about distraction and amusement, which may have been welcomed in the last century but seems less necessary in this one. Still, the reaction of many of my peers to my longing for a kinder, gentler marketing is: "Welcome to capitalism. Get over it. Our job is to make money." Corporate America is a tough place to be when you start hearing a little tiny voice inside your head asking "What's all this for?" You learn to tell the voice to pipe down, and you get back to that meeting with everyone hunched over the conference table, exuberantly planning ways to make MORE money.
"Exuberance becomes dangerous when the goal is reprehensible, the means suspect, or the delight indiscriminate. Enthusiasts may be more interested in the problem to be solved than in the ethical issues which obtain in the wake of a solution."
I think it's easy for the means to become suspect when the goal is one-dimensional. It's not often that you see companies that can truly balance the goals of profit and good citizenship equally -- one inevitably falls by the wayside. Those few companies that do seem successful are often privately-held companies, like Chick Fil-A. I doubt the people at Chick-Fil-A were made to feel like marketing losers when they decided to remain closed on Sundays to keep in line with their values. Imagine suggesting an idea like that in most major corporations - you'd be turning in your badge, BlackBerry and corporate American Express in short order. A lot of marketers don't feel comfortable expressing their feelings about balance and consumer connection, except in the politically correct language of annual plans and consumer insight presentations, where we all shake our heads and say the consumer is number one but then proceed not to act that way. It's not cool to be an egghead, a flake, an "emotional" person. Until one day, when you realize, it doesn't matter whether you're cool. What matters is whether you feel good about what you're doing.
I feel good about decent marketing. I say "Eggheads, unite!"