Is Marketing Work Making Us Stupid?

July 11, 2008 at 6:27 am | Posted in Books, Business, Communication, General, Gladwell, Malcolm - Blink, Marketing, Online marketing, Social Media, Web 2.0 | 11 Comments
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Photo curtesy of jbhill via Flickr

Photo courtesy of jbhill via Flickr

I would like to do something a little different on this lovely Friday. Instead of presenting an argument or commenting on a piece of news, I would like to throw out a question to you. (Yes, you!) I need your help, so dip your figurative quills in the ink well and read on.

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I have a terrible memory. That’s what people tell me anyway. I forget birthdays and I was never good at remembering phone numbers (ah, the days before cell phones).

I’m the type of person who walks into a store and, when they come out, can’t figure out which direction they came from. (Malls were especially difficult as I recall.) It’s not because I’m stupid – it’s because I’m analyzing the advertisement they posted in the window, the customer service of the employees, and whether the discount rate of the sale was more or less than was offered online.

And then I noticed a passage in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink (page 186 for those of you following along at home). Gladwell describes giving a group of his Manhattan friends the Pepsi challenge – figure out which drink is Coke and which is Pepsi while blindfolded. And yet none of his urban friends, pinkies presumably high in the air, could tell the difference. “They may drink a lot of cola, but they don’t ever really think about colas.”

But marketers must think deeply about these experiences. In whatever field you work, do you have an extraordinary sensitivity? Do you have a Spidey-sense about messaging?

And this leads back to my original problem with memory. I’m working on the theory that marketers focus so much on both the big-picture issues (think branding) and small details (think bounce rate) that they may lose some of the information in the middle. Is this the case for you? Or is this just a bunch of baloney?

Maybe there’s nothing to this theory, but I have met quite a few marketers who fit these qualifications. These are folks who can wax poetic at dinner about complicated communication theories and the most intricate of web metrics…but need a pen and paper to figure out how much tip to leave after the bill comes.

Are marketers missing out on the middle? Heck, is working in marketing making up stupid?

After all, we aren’t much use to our family if we think big and small, but not so good in-between. Most of life happens in the in-between part. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments section below. Is this theory bold or bunk?

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  1. If you like this entry, feel free to give it a digg:


  2. Good points. I am not in marketing, but I have trouble with middles. My wife and I have been married for 42 years (even though we are mostly incompatible); she is very good at middle stuff. Perhaps this is the secret to our marriage lasting.

  3. i dont think work can make you stupid, it can only make you better, so if we know, what needs to be focused at, we will.

  4. Marketing of any product or service in todays instant gratification world is dependent upon impulse action on the part of the targeted customer or client. All the stuff in the middle, although important, is secondary to stirring your “needs and wants” desires by initial dramatic presentation and benefit to you close.

    Its not that we are getting stupid, we have been conditioned (like Pavlov’s dog) to make decisions in shorter time spans in order to experience the short lived euphoria of impulsive action gratification.

    What we should be doing is pausing (you know the old trick… count to ten) before we make any purchase. This will allow the mind to actually consider the stuff in the middle and consequently allow ourselves to make better decisions.

  5. Good point about instant gratification mktg and where the middle stuff falls… however it’s all a matter of perspective. there is a slice (unfortunately the greater) where the the middle stuff doesn’t matter. however there are other slices of the consumer market where the middle stuff does matter… where thoughtfulness, building relationships, marketing with character, following thru, and being “real” do matter. with the internet, social media, etc, it’s now possible for brands be who they want to be, reach out to who they want to reach out to, and still make a $1.

    Again, it’s perspective. If $$$ is the bottom line marketing efficiently to the masses takes priority. However if a brand has a different agenda and knows it can still provide a living for those with the company while acting by a higher character then focusing on the “middle” stuff is perfect.

    I like the way you’re thinking! There are others out there who agree.

  6. Maybe you are becoming aware of a new stratification of marketing that is a niche to exploit.

  7. Awesome story.! Much food for thought… It really made my day. Thank you.

  8. Oh my goodness, you are talking about me to a “T”…I guess I need to work on some things! Thanks for the eye opener!

  9. U need to pan out on your capabilities across Big, middle part and small.

    Missing out on whichever part, plug it with a group of mastermind who can fill the gap on your weakest link.

    Like for instance, I strategies on the big picture but isn’t much of a “doer” hence I plug that gap by paying someone to do it.

    Also formed a part of mastermind group that I can share strategies as contributions.

  10. I believe that there is so much space in a person head that there is no way one person can remember everything that happen to them.

  11. Yiicks, are we all becoming ADD? You would hope that the time and attention we pay to any item is in direct proportion to the value we place on that information. Finding your car is necessary but not important. I also find it hard to manage the necessary things I have to remember because there is so much else to focus on. Maybe having clarity around what’s important with the middle stuff would help cut through the clutter at the top end. Lot’s to think about.

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