Words MATTER

I teach marketing like no teacher they’ve had before, according to my students at Stanford and Cal Berkeley. MBAs, and novice marketers, most have the same rejoinder after my first class lecture.

They are responding to my personal definition of marketing, as all the other definitions I’ve heard through my education, and 20+ years of professional experience have been, well… vague at best.

“MARKETING is manipulating people to do as you direct them to do,” I teach. I even have a slide on it, so students not only hear me say it, but get the visual reference as well.

This slide comes only a few slide (out of 300+) into the course, and I always get push-back with it.

“Isn’t “manipulating” a bad thing,” is the rejoinder from, at least, several students in any given class.

It’s true, I could have chosen “motivate,” instead of “manipulate,” but that would be a lie.

I was fired from my first job out of college a year into working as an Art Director for Windsor Publications, at the time, a global publishing firm, because I was taught bullshit in college. “Design an album cover,” was a typical assignment in one of my classes. But there were no parameters given on how to produce it, no knowledge of marketing infused to design an album cover that was actually producible, and would help sell the music inside. We created “art.” So, my first job out of college, I designed ‘art.’

“You are an artist,” my sweet boss, Alex, said the day he fired me. “Your cover designs, and what you’re doing inside have leveled-up Windsor’s delivery, to be sure, but you are costing us a fortune in lithography (this was before the Mac). Regardless of how beautiful the books are under your direction, the ROI just isn’t there.” He was very apologetic, though he shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t like the first time he’d told me to come up with simpler design solutions instead keeping the lab working almost exclusively for me.

Shortly after I was fired, I got a job art directing five international divisions of a popular jewelry manufacturer. The computer was just coming into play, and lithography was going away, but I understood from my first job experience that Alex was right. Advertising and marketing were all about making money, not ‘art.’

I got a teaching gig at FIDM in L.A. a year later. I swore I’d never teach the way I was taught in college. I’d teach the way the real world of marketing, copywriting, graphic design worked, because I was working in it. I wasn’t going to ever become some college professor sitting behind a desk spouting theory. I was going to teach practice, and I did, and have, since I began teaching.

In the real world, the non-politically correct world, the one we actually live in daily, not the one we hope we do, or wish we did, we are bombarded by advertising from virtually waking to sleeping. We try and shut it out with ‘Ad (Banner) Blindness,’ but it doesn’t work sometimes with all the moving pics and videos. Worse, with BDD (behavior driven development) tracking our behavior from purchases to web surfing habits, marketers are getting better and better at targeting us with things we’ll likely find, at least, interesting.

One of the courses I teach at the above mentioned universities is Copywriting. Words matter. I didn’t chose “manipulating” blithely. Raise your hand if you like, enjoy (have positive feelings associated with the word “motivate”), having to sit through a 23 second video commercial for something you could care less about before seeing the YouTube video you wanted. Even, assuming, it is something you care about, after a while you stop caring because you just want to see your damn video instead of having your life taken up by commercials that are forcing you to wait to get what you came for, like a line at the store.

“Motivate,” is positive. “Manipulate” has a negative connotation, it’s true. But it’s closer to accurate. And I’ve sworn to teach the truth as I know it.

This IN NO WAY means “manipulation,” is bad. According to Google, manipulate means to handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner.

OK. Let’s go with that. In fact, if you strip away the social consensus, it’s a verb, a very specific action, not theory. What makes ‘manipulation’ a moral issue depends on who you are trying to manipulate, and for what purpose.

I manipulate my kids daily to do what I think is best for them. Get As, to get into good colleges, to compete in the global, automated job market you’ll enter, I’ve preached since they’ve entered middle school. I try and talk them into dealing with their real feelings instead of hiding in bravado. Eating right. Sleeping 8 hours a night. Get off their fu**ing cellphones. If I were ad campaigns, our home would be stuffed tight with 17 years of memes, tweets, blog posts, brochures, flyers, post-its, one-sheets, videos, and emails to my kids trying to get them—manipulating to them—to do as I say, or as I’m directing them to do, from speaking to potty training to applying for colleges.

We all market our messaging, and our brand virtually daily. Dress to impress at work, or on a date? You choose a BMW or Prius? Have kids? What have you raised them to believe, that you do? How have you raised them to behave?

In marketing terms, “manipulate” simply refers to getting people to do what they wouldn’t normally do on their own, by using a motivator, an incentive to respond as directed. As babies, of course, and then kids, my children naturally responded to my marketing efforts, often simply for the reward, the motivator, of pleasing me. Now, as teens, not so much. So I have to up my marketing efforts, change it up with their new demographic, to make any impact. I’m working on that as I type this…; }.

Marketing is an iterative process!

 

 

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