Are marketers lying to themselves?
If you are a marketer, you need to go and get tickets to see Vice.
It’s up for an Oscar this year - focused on Dick Cheney, who was VP during the Bush administration and also a massively intelligent strategist. Might be worth mentioning that the morality of his actions is up for debate, but that’s not the point.
A 30-second scene stood out and made me think about us marketers. In it, Dick started his career in the White House and asks his well-experienced mentor a very human question.
He’s doing well, he’s impressing those around him, he’s good at what he does. And still he feels the need to take a moment, stop and ask, ‘What do we believe in?’
His mentor, with more experience in the game, goes into a fit of hysterical laughter. At first, this seems to be a classic scene fitting snug into the cliché dynamic of the naive beginner and well-versed old-timer.
‘The young wide-eyed semi-idiot still has a lot to learn,’ the scene screams. Dick walks away with a slight smile on his face. He gets it - they don’t believe in anything. Now he knows the name of the game and has a shot at winning.
I get it, but I am a bit puzzled as to one aspect of this storyline.
Why is searching for a higher purpose in what we’re doing so laughable?
I initially laughed too.
Of course there are no beliefs or values here, Dick. It’s survival. Power. Money.
I had bought the narrative and taken it home for a glass of wine. I was invested in seeing him accept this hard true fact. But then I thought about marketing - and wait, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing every day from 9-5?
I’m singing about our values and beliefs all day at work. Not only do we have a higher purpose, we actually have a whole Manifesto. Its backbone was this one idea: ‘We want to create a future where people are free to do what they love.’
When I first read this and all the other beautiful statements, I was like yeah. That’s what I want to be working towards, that’s a noble and beautiful goal. I can get through my days knowing that I am actually building towards something, not only good quarterly reviews.
But then I watched Vice and that one effing scene and then thought, am I actually lying to myself? Am I the marketing version or Kendall Jenner handing policemen a can of pepsi?
Our brands and agencies have these strong values and ideas about how they can positively influence the world, and they may well be set up for success. My agency is actively involved in positive societal change, using behavioural economics principles to actively make the world a better place.
But then the occasional article like Dave Trott’s piece in Campaign Mag this morning comes along, boasting: “Before there was ‘brand purpose’ there was truth in advertising.”
Are brands lying when they say they have a purpose?
Is it a big cover up, and is it really about the money? Am I helping an agency sell some stunning human behaviour-infused services, or am I actually contributing to the co-creation of a better world?
In his article, Dave praises Nike’s ‘If you let me play’ campaign for its bluntness. It’s a clear message: if you buy our product, you’ll get this in return. Statistics and facts, not visionary ideals.
I respect that. That’s cool. All I want to ask is, is it really that embarrassing to believe in something?
We are selling stuff, that is what we are measured on. That’s okay. But does that mean that by adding a vision to it we're lying ourselves?
No. It doesn’t.
It means we feel that our lives need to amount to something more than a bottom line figure.
And that’s not naive, or idiotic.
- Is brand purpose a big hoax?
- & you need to see Vice.