Lately I’ve been noticing a lot more marketing work out in the wild where brands are just talking to themselves. You know the kind of thing that I’m talking about. Instead of truly trying to connect with consumers, you’ll see brands just regurgitating corporate speak that doesn’t make much sense when you actually think about it. A former manager of mine used to call it smoking your own exhaust.
It happens all the time in the retail industry where stores tout their unbelievable “one-day only” sales. These “one-day sales” actually last two days because they just happen to have an extra day that is called a special “preview day.” I’m sure you’ve seen these and probably are just immune to them by now. They are the “can’t miss” or “once a year savings event” that somehow magically repeat themselves by the same retailers month-after-month-after-month. (I’m looking at you Macy’s.)
Another example I saw that I think fits this bill is from fast food chain Arby’s and their attempt to break a world record by airing the longest television commercial in history. What was this spectacular feat? Arby’s took to the airwaves, on only one measly TV station in a small Minnesota town mind you, to broadcast video footage for 13 hours of a brisket being smoked. (For a good assessment of this publicity stunt I recommend checking out Minneapolis PR practitioner Arik Hanson’s take on it). Excuse me Arby’s, but no one considers you to be a purveyor of finely cooked meats. If you want to talk about brisket and how to do it properly then let’s talk about Oklahoma Joe’s. And Bryant’s. And the Salt Lick. And Franklin Barbecue. And Gates. And Shorty’s. And Kreuz Market. (I could go on and on.) And in all seriousness, what benefit is the consumer getting out of this 13 hour “advertisement?”
Most recently I was a recipient of some ridiculous marketing that was the clearest evidence of a brand smoking its own fumes. Last week I received a set of direct mail catalogs from Restoration Hardware that weighed more than 12 pounds. Seriously. I weighed it for myself. Now the weight and size of this was out-of-control, but the most hilarious thing about getting this package was top sheet that came with it. On top of the package was a one page ode to Restoration Hardware’s sustainability efforts. I am not joking.
To fully make sure I had not only received this package but was also aware of all the good that Restoration Hardware was doing on behalf of our planet, they also sent me a reminder email.
As you can see, the email was sure to point out how their efforts lead to a “significantly reduced impact on the environment.” Dear Restoration Hardware: if you’re serious about saving paper and the environment, then here’s my suggestion: ditch the catalogs and focus on your website. And also think about how you can better use Pinterest or Instagram rather than sending me five reams of paper.
In all of these instances it’s easy to envision how the conversations went down behind the scenes in the office.
We should add a second day to our one-day sale because consumers really don’t keep track either way.
We need to do something to tout our restaurant because we have to stand out someway, somehow.
We have to mail off our catalogs because we’ve always done direct mail, but this time we can save money by shipping them all together and take credit that it’s good for the environment.
The justifications could go on and on.
I don’t think the practice of brands talking to themselves is happening any more than usual, but for some reason it’s just striking a chord with me right now. This behavior is part of the marketing world that many professionals don’t talk about but won’t deny. When you are knee deep in the work for a brand it can be hard to maintain perspective. The easy way out is accept the status quo, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
If we don’t question conventional thinking then aren’t we missing the big picture? As marketers, shouldn’t we be trying to view things from an authentic perspective of our customers? I’m talking about the real view that consumers have – the view that you see from their honest eyes. This goes beyond consumer marketing. And it’s definitely a shift away from corporate marketing. Instead, how about we challenge ourselves and inspire our teams to be honest in our approach? I like that. I think I’ll give this crazy idea a revolutionary name: common sense marketing.
(Photo courtesy of Viou via Creative Commons License.)