James R. Rosenfield



Are you weary of the hype, jargon, distortions, and outright lies that so many fellow marketers throw steadily in our faces? I sure am. I swear, if I see the acronym "CRM" one more time, I'll absolutely become apoplectic. Marketers no longer talk to each other. They talk at each other, often combining two, three, or four kinds of blather into an unholy smorgasbord of cracked communication:

1) Platitudes
2) Phony facts
3) Magical mysteries
4) Jargon and tech-talk

Read some articles or attend a marketing conference and you'll see what I mean. You want platitudes tiresome enough to bore a statue? A fellow in a current direct marketing trade magazine tells us "Response rates are relevant, but only if they result in revenues." Another journal wows us with "A satisfied customer is as important as technology."

"TBWA rethinks brand strategy," headlines a recent Advertising Age article. "From the very beginning," says the TBWA president, "we question how does a consumer connect with a brand." This is a two-fer, combining platitude with magical mystery. What exactly does "connect with a brand" mean? Joined at the hip? Sexual congress? And why exactly is it important?

"The benefits of employee relationship management - ERM - are obvious: increased employee retention and satisfaction" another trade journal tells us. This is a three-fer: a platitude (ostensibly obvious) couched in jargon ("ERM," a play on the heinous and omnipresent "CRM."); and a phony fact. (Is it really "obvious?") Does "ERM" actually increase employee retention, and, if so, has it been proven that this matters financially?)

Phony facts are hugely annoying, as well as ethically distressing. They're a house specialty of writers or speakers fishing for clients or new jobs. In an article published in Financial Services Marketing two guys from Accenture tell us that "A mobile telecommunications company…faced a dual challenge: retaining customers while increasing cross-sales in a highly competitive environment. The company used customer insight tools…Its $2 million investment in a campaign management tool is expected
(italics are mine) "to yield ongoing return on investment of 42 percent." Lots of
"expected" things don't happen, you would probably agree.

How did this happen? Aren't all of us supposed to be professional communicators? Where are the David Ogilvys and the Bob Stones of today, to tell us in straightforward, commonsensical prose how to do advertising and direct marketing?

I'm sick to death of all this nonsensical, tiresome, boring, and insulting pseudo-information from people who wouldn't know the truth if it bit them on the backside. It's time to bring some spirit, life, honesty, and humor back into marketing discourse. It's also time to bring some meaning back.

Do I have a right to appoint myself an arbiter of meaning? Well, as much as anyone else, and perhaps more than some, given my many years in the marketing field. In this self-appointed mode, I offer Jim Rosenfield's Devil's Dictionary of Marketing. It's patterned after The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, as well as Dr. Johnson's great work, rather than the Oxford English Dictionary or Webster's. I hope to provide a bit of levity, as well as some useful concepts.


ADVERTISING: generally, any communication about a product or service. More specifically, what's called "general advertising" in the U.S., "above-the-line" elsewhere, i.e., communications supposed to affect attitudes, build brands, and motivate purchase.

Does this really happen? Of course not! The correlation between attitudes and purchase behavior is, at best, indirect, and often as not, non-existent. Does advertising build brands? Sometimes, but not as often as it builds categories, which means that if you're the largest brand in the category (and the biggest spender) you might do well. In fact, your competitors' ads might be in effect unconscious philanthropic advertising for you. (In recall research, consumers tend to assimilate all ads into the number one brand in the category.)

Does any of this matter? Nope. What advertising is really good at is building desire. Advertising fuels the consumer economy by making people want things, things that for the most part they don't need. "Advertising makes you sick, then sells you the cure," said Marshall McLuhan.

ADVERTISING AGENCIES: waste factories. Kindergartens. Tap-dancers. And that's on their good days.

Agencies fill two huge socio-economic roles, though: The first is to help fuel the consumer economy (see ADVERTISING, above). The second is to give slightly non-conforming people a place to hang out each day. The consumer economy can't accommodate too many artists, so better to turn them into Art Directors who delude themselves into thinking they're doing something creative.

The constant day-in, day-out drone of advertising, through all media, affects people - particularly Americans - more than any other communications source. Television advertising in particular remains, even in the supposed era of the Internet, the single most powerful cultural influence in the U.S. And there's no doubt that U.S. style advertising, when exported to other countries, has an equally powerful effect, particularly in the Third World, where young people seem like tabulas rasas on which advertising is written.
This is scary.

ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER: both a symptom and a cause of the thousands of mindless advertising messages to which First World consumers are subjected, day in and day out, without respite.

BODY COPY: the part of an ad or direct mail package that no one reads. Can you write it in Sanskrit and get away with it? Just about. Certainly in low-involvement categories you can.

It's the hallowed Pareto Principle. Copywriters should put 80% of their effort into 20% of the copy: headlines, subheads, bullets, coupons, response devices, outer envelopes.

BRAND: the mystical sacrament with which ad agencies invest a product or service. Brand is the aura that surrounds a product, the nimbus that circulates around a service, a halo that lends holiness to hairspray, mystery to mustard. It's what agencies wave their magic wands to produce. It is an essence, a personification, a commercial deity.

A game agencies play is to pretend what kind of person your brand would be if your brand were a person. What would Coca-Cola be? A person flatulent with brown sugar water? What would Marlboro be? A cancer cell with a 10-gallon hat? What would Buick be? Your father on a bad night? What would McDonald's be? A fat globule? What would Nike be? A slavemaster on the make? What would Exxon be? A dead sea lion?

Brand loyalty exists but - with the exception of high-involvement, self-image categories such as fashion - it's more of a stress-management mode than anything else. People stay with a brand (as long as it sort of works) because it's more trouble to switch than it's worth. The British hate their banks, but an Englishperson is more likely to divorce than to change banks. Why? Because at least they're dealing with the devil they know.

Not long ago my neighborhood Chevron gas station was closed, so I used a Texaco station at the next freeway exit. I'm in no way brand loyal to Chevron or any other despoiler of the environment, but I was slightly discommoded at having to deal with unfamiliarity in what is ordinarily a mindless, automatic process. There, gentlemen, is your brand loyalty!

BRAND MANAGER: a person, usually young, whose job it is to get promoted. Brand managers are endemic in the packaged goods industry, and show up at least sporadically in other industries, financial services being one. By definition, a brand manager focuses on his or her product, rather than the customer, helping to ensure that "customer centrism," "customer relationship marketing," and all the other buzzwords never get translated into reality.

BROADBAND: something that will change the world, we think or hope or imagine or feel, today, tomorrow, the next day, or at some point. (See WAP.)

B2B: today's au courant phrase for "business-to-business," which was yesterday's au courant phrase for "industrial advertising."

Business-to-business marketing communications in the past have often regarded people as automatons, rather than human beings.

Nowadays, in the enlightened, CRM-influenced 21st Century, B2B marketing communications often regard people as automatons, rather than human beings, with the exception of TV ads for high-tech B2B products, which are commonly mindless, sophomoric, and unfunny attempts at cleverness.

CALL CENTERS: the coal mines of the Information Age, where unfortunate workers are forced to disturb people in the middle of dinner, or field calls from furious customers. The fact that there are not mass suicides is either testimony to the human spirit, or a sign of not quite terminal depression.

It would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that Call Centers spike the drinking water with Prozac and the coffee with Valium.

CHANNEL MIGRATION: It conjures up images of mad cows swimming to Calais, but it's in reality a euphemism for getting rid of customers.

Why would a company want to get rid of customers? Well, why keep them if they're not profitable? But can they be made profitable, you ask? Probably, but that takes more work than simply showing them the door.

Channel migration becomes most disturbing when financial institutions use it as a means of abusing poor people. Various banks have experimented with exiling the poor to ATMs, and to limiting their use of 800 numbers. In other words, the very people most in need of explanation and human touch are forbidden to enter a branch or speak to a person. This, of course, will help keep them poor.

In the U.S., fortunately, the press is on to such activities, and banks have had to moderate their stances, particularly since this sort of channel migration has a de facto racist tinge to it.

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© 2008, James R. Rosenfield. All rights reserved. Use by permission only.