Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


"I was surrounded by people who for some reason found my very presence a threat. And had I not been able to stand up to them on their terms, I' would be somewhere back on the east coast, my tail between my legs. But it was more than that. For many outback people, the effect of almost total isolation coupled with that all-encompassing battle with the earth is so great that, when the prizes are won, they feel the need to build a psychological fortress around the knowledge and possessions they have broken their backs to obtain. That fiercely independent individualism was something akin to what I was feeling now - the inability to incorporate new people who hadn't shared the same experience. I understood a facet of Alice Springs, and softened towards it, at that moment."

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


"Before that moment, I had always supposed that loneliness was my enemy. I had seemed not to exist without people around me. But now I understood that I had always been a loner, and that this condition was a gift rather than someting to be feared. Alone, in my castle, I could see more clearly what loneliness was. For the first time it flashed on me that the way I had conducted my life was to allow myself that remoteness, always protect that high, clear place that could not be shared without risking its destruction. I had paid for this over and over with periods of neurotic despair, but it had been worth it. I had somehow always countered my desire for a knight in shining armour by forming bonds with men I didn't like, or with men who were so off the air there was no hope of a permanent relationship. I could not deny this. It lay, crystal clear, beneath the feelings of inadequacy and defeat, the clever self-directed plan that had been working towards this realization for years. I believe the subconscious always knows what is best. It is our conditioned, vastly overrated rational mind which screws everything up."

Monday, December 31, 2018

Make Marketing Less Glib.

It's not just offensive, it's an offence. They think they're being clever, but they're not. There is nothing wrong with being offensive, that way lies freedom of speech. There is everything wrong with committing an offence, that way lies the breaking of societal laws.

Conflating the two is problematic because it allows the offenders falsely to justify their behaviour on the grounds of free speech. Marketers deal in communication and they, more than most, need to choose their words carefully.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Beware Marketers Bearing fMRIs.

Magnetic resonance imaging scanners belong in hospitals where they can help medical pratitioners with their diagnoses. They do not belong in marketing publications where they only serve to delude gullible marketers.

If a neuroscientist is explaining what an fMRI means, then I'll listen because I know I might learn something. If a marketer has been using the machine then I'm immediately sceptical and quite often rude.

Thus it was that I got into a bit of a Twitter spat this week. The assertion at hand was that people don't want to have a relationship with brands. It's an assertion with which I completely agree. But I cannot agree with the suggestion that an academic marketer putting a bunch of people in a scanner and showing them images of people and of brands proves anything.

The fact that different parts of the brain (correction: different parts of an fMRI image) "light up" during this experiment does not prove that the brain thinks of people as people and thinks of brands as objects. It proves that different parts of the image light up and indicates increased blood-flow in those areas.

But let's be clear. No one has the slightest clue what it means for one part of a brain to light up in response to X while lighting up differently in response to Y, beyond the fact that we've found a difference maker. That's it, it's a difference maker. What that difference means, no one has any idea.

The findings can be real, as in robustly repeatable, but without having the faintest idea of how brains work, without having even a theory of how brains work, the meaning of the finding will be forever obscure.  No matter how much a neuromarketer might want you to believe otherwise.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Difference Between Sales And Marketing.

No it's not - because I can read your sign perfectly well and your call to action isn't prompting a reason to act.

Now if you'd printed it in a blurry font, thereby demonstrating the job to be done and engaging me on an emotional level, then maybe I'd have responded differently.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Advertising By Committee.

It's as if you were in the banking security focus group yourself. Somebody made a "joke" about being asked for their dog's maiden name. Some people nodded. And it ended up in the creative brief.

And now it ends up on a big poster. A poster that is as amusing as the original "joke", as irrelevant as could be imagined and which tells us nothing about how this enhances the security they're advertising as a differentiator.

But that doesn't matter because when it comes to security, we all value simplicity above effectiveness. Don't we?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beware Marketers Bearing Neuroscience.

I like to learn about new things. It helps keep my brain active, it's interesting in and of itself and, most importantly, it gives me a better chance of knowing when other people are bluffing.

To that end, I have been trying to get my head around machine learning, support vector machines and "AI" for a number of years. I have done so not by reading presss articles but by meeting the practitioners and scratching the surface of practical courses. Consequently, I know how complicated and mathematically advanced it is and how ignorant I am. This stuff is hard. Really hard.

But today somebody, somewhere will mention AI or consciousness or neuromarketing to you and when they do, I'd like you to remember this guest post that I found on data scientist and activist Cathy O.Neill's blog a few years ago.  It's very sweary (as the best things often are) but if you're squeamish about that sort of thing, here's an extract that gets to the heart of the issue.

So, the next time you see a pretty 3D picture of many neurons being simulated, think “cargo cult brain”. That simulation isn’t gonna think any more than the cargo cult planes are gonna fly. The reason is the same in both cases: We have no clue about what principles allow the real machine to operate. We can only create pretty things that are superficially similar in the ways that we currently understand, which an enlightened being (who has some vague idea how the thing actually works) would just laugh at.