Review: ‘Gonzo Marketing’

I intended not to quote too voluminously in this article. My intentions, like the drunken promises of a virgin on prom night, may fail.

My subject today is a review of “Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices” by Christopher Locke. My aim (much like my intention) is to somehow illuminate the depths of this tome.

“Gonzo” is the term that exploded into popularity with the work of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s now revived in kaleidoscopic style in Locke’s book. Defining “gonzo” is a bit like defining “love” (a subject this business book takes into account). Let’s just say that to be gonzo is to be subjective and engaged.

(As I confess I am in writing this review. I cannot claim objectivity. Hell, it would be downright slimy, as I’m cited in the acknowledgements.)

“Gonzo Marketing” works from an established premise: The broadcast paradigm is dying. The broadcast paradigm in this sense refers not just to marketing but more to the mass media that disseminates marketing messages. The book alleges a growing ineffectiveness of marketing in the context of its creation and a vastly different approach to an alternative. Here come the quotes:

Gonzo Marketing provides a model whereby companies can stop manipulating people as if they were abstract demographic data, and instead create genuine relationships with emergent online communities of interest: powerful new web micromarkets. The paradox is that companies can have everything they’ve always wanted. Greater market share. Customer loyalty. Brand equity. All those empty phrases that today make people blow coffee out their noses. But companies can actually achieve these goals. No really. All they have to do is follow the advice my Junior High principal once shared with me. “Son,” he said, shaking with anger, “you’ve got to get your thinking straight!”

Getting the thinking straight is the hard part. Locke begins with the premise that the broadcast paradigm itself is at the root of marketing’s current malaise. He progresses to a larger issue: Business operates in a context divorced from the larger issues of life.

We’ve all heard the refrains: “That’s just the way business is done around here.” “That’s the nature of the business.” And, “Don’t rock the boat.” Rocking the boat is exactly what Locke advocates.

And with reason. In the aftermath of September 11, while the marketing and advertising world struggles to find relevance, Locke has already addressed the issue (with usual prescience, I might add). Business’ larger context is life. You know, love, trust, friendship, loyalty, heroism, passion, truth. You’ll notice that life does not address brand loyalty, viral anything, or permission. That’s right folks, this book dares to ask why any of that matters.

But fear not. You’re not being led down some retro, capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil road. Quite the contrary.

Locke says companies must first recognize their inability to connect with their markets. Then, they should turn to the obvious internal resource available for doing just that: the passions of their employees. Employees live a life outside of the confines of business, so business, in acknowledgement of this, can connect to external passions. In turn, business will connect with markets. I leave the intricacies of the model to Locke (it’s not as simple as it sounds), but I will say this: Hundreds of millions of effective marketing and advertising dollars are locked within this model. The only question is when the land grab will begin.

Locke’s style is indefatigable. His wit, never-ending. His ability to draw bricolage-like associations is stunning. “Gonzo Marketing” is sure to be one of the most important marketing books of the year. As I lapse into used-car salesman rhetoric, allow me to say one thing in total sincerity: When Chris started writing this book, we barely knew each other. Over the course of its writing, we became friends. I witnessed the growth of these ideas — a process of research, delight, frustration, and enthusiasm. At the end of the day, had I never met the author, I would still recommend this book. Even if it does nothing more than enrage you, it will have connected you to larger emotions of life and pointed you toward marketing’s salvation.

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