Marketing Trick or Treat

I was sitting in a meeting recently when a colleague referred to one of our successful activities as a marketing gimmick. A gimmick? It made it sound like we did something wrong. It struck me that most folks in the meeting who heard the comment thought of  marketing as trickery. I was alone in seeing it in a positive light. Why has marketing gotten such a bad reputation as cheap, gimmicky and even dishonest? 

I see things differently. All professions have disingenuous people who give their area of expertise a bad name. I know plenty of great, competent lawyers but they often get a bad rap due to many shysters. Think of sports stars or Hollywood superstars whose bad behavior makes you think all stars are smug. Marketing gets tarnished by the colorless paintbrush of bad advertising, cheesy promotion and lousy marketing efforts. I get it but lets not assume all marketing activities are gimmicks with questionable intentions. 

A great marketing insight needs a great tactical approach to help rephrase or rethink issues. The insight can change the perspective of those viewing a product, a solution or an issue but you have to bring that insight to life. These aren't gimmicks but creative expressions. Consumers smell trickery and expect you to deliver what you promise. 

Repositioning an idea for its positive benefit and de-emphasizing the negative is one such strategy. Carbonated soft drink companies focus attention on flavor, taste or hydration and de-emphasize calories. McDonald's emphasizes the clean, family environment and distracts you from the fast food. Ads depicting the owners of energy companies as evil take a twist by illustrating that if you own mutual funds in your pension or 401K, you are probably part owner of one of these evil companies. All of these approaches change the conversation creating a pivot to turn in a different direction. Shifting the conversation is part of the goal and if a consumer feels mislead, they can vote with their wallets and pocketbooks. 

Marketing Gimmicks

A New View:  If I can get you to see things in a different light, I might be able to persuade you to act differently or to see a marketplace from a new viewpoint. I don’t think this is bad- I think this is what businesses do every day of the week. A gimmick is a trick or device to cheat or deceive people. Magicians use gimmicks to distract you from looking at their left hand while they do something with their right.

Marketing involves shedding a light on a different way to see something. Like any action, if the intention is to hurt, to harm, it becomes bad or negative. If the intention is to shift the discussion, it isn’t a gimmick but a creative way to alter your viewpoint. 

For a brief part of my career, I worked for a software firm that had an idea to reposition how the marketplace looked at the very mundane activity of ordering a refill for a prescription. Several of us filed a patent to protect an idea in this field. We had a vision that saw the telephonic interaction consisting of hundreds of millions of calls placed by consumers as a new type of network. With the consumer’s permission you could provide valuable information to them that pharmaceutical firms would pay to promote to a targeted audience. Big pharma could guarantee they were reaching the precise target like someone on a specific drug like Lipitor.  We called the idea micro broadcasting.

At the time, many people (investors/employees) saw what we were trying to do as a gimmick: nothing more than a marketing trick and something deceptive. In fact, the idea was a chance to reposition the interaction as a marketable network whereby you could talk to a highly targeted audience. Where some saw trickery- others saw a brilliant idea to aggregate connections into a network. 

Gimmick implies something deceptive and nefarious. Our concept was built on permission and would only work if a patient wanted information to make sure they were complying with how their medication worked. Yes, we were motivated by the financial benefit but we also saw the ability to intersect a targeted market at the time they were thinking about their prescription just like Google and targeted search. Other networks like this existed (see the ads on your prescription printout or the back of a cash register that gives you coupons for Coke when you buy Pepsi).

Not a marketing manual 

Seeing a market in a new light is creative and at the essence of the positive side of marketing.

To avoid being a marketing gimmick and to become a brilliant idea, I like to ask myself these five questions:

I will leave gimmicks to magicians. Marketing is chance to refocus attention somewhere new. It is about delivering treats not tricks. 

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