Your Marketing $ucks

Your Marketing Sucks
By Mark Stevens
235pp. New York: Crown Business. $24.00.

In a sense, this was a book that had to be written. As the economy, and along with it the marketing business, spirals to new depths there is an understandable desire to reexamine all conventional wisdom. Those marketing tactics that worked so well when times were good are now suspect. And with good reason.

As Mark Stevens lays bare in his insightful new book, much of the accepted thinking about advertising is just plain wrong. Of course the title suggests that Stevens feels warmly in the matter, but his premise is absolutely correct. The sacred cows of marketing must be slain.

Let’s start with the notion that marketing that doesn’t produce sales is still somehow effective. Anyone who has dealt with the brahmins of Madison Avenue will hear this all the time. Yes, they will admit, sales haven’t increased but we’ve increased your “share of mind” among consumers so let’s keep the campaign going. Stevens rightly tells us that it would be faster and simpler to simply shovel the money out the window.

Another favorite canard is the awards game. We realize this ad hasn’t done anything for your bottom line, the creative team will admit, but the good news is that we’ve just won a Clio. Run, as fast as you can, away from this agency Stevens advises.

Of course much of this foolery is not a recent phenomenon but started in better times when marketing budgets swelled and sales were virtually guaranteed. It is no surprise that many of the towering figures in modern advertising, like David Ogilvy and Rosser Reeves, came of age in during the great post-war era of prosperity. Unfortunately, that heady mindset stayed in the ad business for decades to come and failed to acknowledge the changing realities of the marketplace.

Not content to merely take potshots at the big agencies, as valid as those criticisms may be, Stevens does offer a solution. Dubbed “extreme marketing” it can also be translated as simply effective marketing. In other words, the marketing tactics Stevens advocates actually produce results. What a concept!

Without stealing too much of Stevens’ thunder, he is at his best when he advises companies to start from scratch. That is, reject everything you think you know about marketing and dare to imagine something different. Saying that you want a brochure simply because your competitors all have brochures is not sound marketing, although it is a good way to waste money and generate fees for an agency.

Given the inertia that is invariably found at large corporations, it may be wishful thinking to suppose that Fortune 500 companies will simply pull the plug on their marketing efforts and take a fresh look at things. Yet Stevens does relate a few poignant success stories he has had in overcoming corporate torpor so hope is still alive. Undoubtedly small and medium-size businesses that are better able to stop on a dime will be the first to heed Stevens’ sound advice, and they may well set the example for others to follow.

In the end, something has to change because too much of the marketing out there today truly does suck.


Jonathan Jackson is an independent consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on internet advertising and email marketing since the inception of the internet. A frequent guest speaker, Jonathan has addressed global audiences on marketing and advertising topics and also teaches marketing at colleges around the world.

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