Why marketing is dirty, unethical and bloody brilliant

We’re scammers. We’re forgerers. We’re hackers. Some call us artists. Others – scum. Why did Marketers develop such a bad rep? In more ways than one, we deserve it. Why do marketers play dirty tricks? Here’s why –

“Why mathematicians hate toothpaste companies”

Oral health brands have consistently defied the rules of the game, making this industry exemplary in their ability to bend the rules of 2nd grade counting. If 9/10 dentists recommend every toothpaste brand that exists, then we must be living in parallel universes. We’re living in a multi-verse where all the dentists of a single universe unanimously agree about their preferred choice of toothpaste. Every time you see the “9/10 dentists agree” tag line in a toothpaste commercial; know that we’ve collectively crossed through the worm-hole and entered a different dimension of existence.

As brands in different industries aim to differentiate their positioning, the oral heath care brands have strived to do the exact opposite. They usually go down the product endorsement route by using actors to vouch for their products. Sometimes, its in the form of celebrities; other times its in the form of *expert* recommendations. These experts are easily recognizable in their past appearances in failed tv shows or from other toothpaste commercials. People have grown tired of these forms of advertising; but hey, as long as it comforts the brand managers, its all good.

Here’s a bunch of some great ads that are really creative and play within the rules:-

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“Why numbers lie to us, and why we like it that way”

Let’s start with Facebook. People buy likes, comments, and shares from third-world countries for their Facebook pages. They do this because real visitors to their Facebook page feel comforted in the fact that 100K+ others have liked it before them. There’s safety in numbers, but even more safety if your friends have liked the page as well. A recent article on the NY Times covered the not-so-underground $200 Million industry of buying and selling fake accounts.
A company called Unique IT world, publically commented on the article about how it created fake accounts and has regular employees that constantly like, share and comment on these social media pages. It’s not robots anymore. Robots are easy to catch and delete. These are human beings that create these accounts and share each other’s content as well. One would suspect that Facebook would counter these activities by tracking the locations of their IP addresses, but companies like Unique IT world are smarter than that. The brash nature of these companies is what really defines the strong need for fake followers, likes, and shares.
YouTube. Our beloved YouTube had so many fake views on its platform, that it had to remove the Top-10 feature all together. Marketers then found the “Statistics” section below every video.

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A feature, they believed would give them better insights about the quality of that YouTube channel and the content that it produces. Little did they know, that this data is almost completely hack-able. It is next to impossible to conduct any primary research based on the data available through YouTube.
Twitter? Oh boy. Let’s move on.

So why do these numbers give us so much comfort? Well, we like the way they look, and sometimes they are directly connected with our performance appraisals. When we see our competitors destroying us on these platforms, we have to stop and wonder if it’s worth our time explaining to everyone in our company that our competitors purchased fake likes – without having any shred of evidence against them. It’s a difficult place to be in.
I couldn’t resist skipping Twitter altogether without talking about this mid-2013 trend of “liking-back”. I see so many *experts* that have 100K+ followers, but follow 100K people at the same time. What kind of an expert could that person be? Then again, someone with 100K+ followers and 10 follows could indicate that his bank statement has an entry called “Fivver.com – buy 1000 followers for $5”.

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A waste of $5 you say? Well, think about how many customers he could con, claiming that he was an expert in the field. “Just look at my follower count”, he would say. “ I charge $250 an hour”, he would add. What should really scare you right now, is that brands can advertise to accounts directly on Twitter, with tailored audiences. Try and guess who they’ll be targeting in 2014. It’ll be these high-rollers with large followers, so they’d RT some of their advertised content.

“Why we love displaying banner ads – when its more likely that a person will be accepted to Stanford than click on a banner ad”

The absolute worst examples of banner ads are the ones that ask you guess something or shoot something. These flash based banners have existed in the trenches of the internet, and sometimes lead you to well known and popular websites if you click on them. This happens, most likely, when brands outsource their banner campaigns, and the agency agrees upon a range of CTRs or impressions. Since the click throughs can be tracked using Google Analytics, these agencies mask the traffic as redirects or even as direct traffic sources. GA doesn’t breakdown direct traffic effectively and hence, brand X might see a 20% increase in direct traffic, but a 0% increase in conversions.
Another excellent example of pushing ads on unsuspecting people is the interstitial ads in mobile games. We’re used to being interrupted by interstitials on popular news websites, but mobile games have an ingenious way of forcing you to click through. They offer in-app upgrades for clicking on the ad or installing a specific application. They give you a 100 gold points if you click on an ad, that you eventually close and proceed to playing your game again. How effective is this type of conversion going to be? Your CTRs could be 70%, but your conversions would be negligible. But then again, marketers are masters at misinterpreting numbers.

 

“Why marketing built the internet and why we’re the most brilliant bunch of people you’ll ever meet”

As Dan Pink once said – “To sell is human”. Think about the greatest inventions in technology in the 21rst century. Arguably, “the internet” could be considered to hold a special place in that category. Think about how it started off in the 1970s. Way before cat memes and online trolls, there were a few servers, a data transfer protocol and some people that wanted to share ideas with one another. Computers were heavy, transfer speed was low, and people were quite contempt with talking over their cordless phones.

Think about how we interact with the internet almost everyday now. As soon as we open our browser, we press the letter “f” on our browser and pop opens Facebook. Our morning routine has us checking our emails, browsing the news, and looking at Buzzfeed lists of – the top 10 reason why (insert thing here) is (insert emotion here).
Here’s the ugly truth kids – the internet isn’t free and its funded by advertising.
If it wasn’t for marketing, we would have never figured out a way to sustainably enjoy the benefits of the internet. Why else do you think Google is pushing its internet service Fiber, and Facebook is pursuing Internet.org. The more people there are on the internet, the more brands will pay to show their messages. It’s this fundamental rule that created and grew the internet to where you can enjoy it completely free from the comfort of your homes, without paying a single dime. The tenacity of marketers to push and sell products and services is remarkable – if you really think about it.
We use creative tactics to game the system, we stalk our customers wherever they go, we use psychology to increase consumption, and we use influence to mould society the way we want to. Beer commercials will always be about sex – because it works, skincare will always show fair skin and long hair, and fast food will always be about fighting obesity and healthy nutrition.

We understand what makes you happy, what makes you insecure, what makes you believe in our products, and what makes you unique in your unoriginal way. In more ways than one, we know you better than the NSA. All we ask in return, is that you be yourself. Be original. Be whoever you want to be, and be in charge of your own decisions. Because, we could use a challenge. And because we love to make you smile, in our own creative and quirky way.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc