One of my favourite statistics of 2012 came in the form of a media release from Fournaise Marketing Group, who had discovered that 80% of CEOs "do not really trust and are not very impressed by the work done by marketers." To provide some context, 90% of the same CEOs claimed to trust and value the opinion and work of CFOs and CIOs.
At one level, the statistic shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, 2012 was the year that Charles Gibb, President of Belvedere vodka was forced to apologise for a Facebook ad that trivialised rape. Mr. Gibb wasn't alone in suffering humiliation at the hands of his own marketers. French fashion brand La Redoute also received complaints after an online ad featured four children frolicking on a beach in their latest Summer collection... while a naked man emerged from the sea behind them.
2012 was punctuated by marketing faux-pas of all shapes and sizes, from which no brand was safe: IKEA, KitchenAid, GAP, Walmart, PETA, Nestlé, Bic and even Amazon all fell victim to sloppy marketing errors.
Rather than ducking for cover, the marketing community seems to have come out swinging in 2013. In February, Marketing Week published an article by Mark Ritson titled, "Kill the weak: it's the marketing way." The article is a belligerent (only partly tongue-in-cheek) call to action for marketers, littered with sound bites Machiavelli would have been proud of:
"Weak brands must die and strong brands must kill them."
"Marketing needs killers."
"A winning combination of hatred and strong marketing."
Ritson's is not a lone voice. Dave Trott, renowned for his unique combination of common sense, creativity and world-wisdom, has recently published a book titled "Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition". It contains many of the hallmarks of Dave Trott's work: interesting thoughts presented in punchy prose, laid out as poetry. But with the introduction of a seemingly new mean streak. According to his website, 'Predatory Thinking' is now at the heart of all he does: "seeking unfair advantage to outmanoeuvre the competition."
Many marketers seem more than happy to jump on to the nasty bandwagon. Hundreds have added to the chorus through blog posts, comments, tweets and glowing reviews.
Presumably, Marketing Directors across the UK are ditching old-fashioned, namby-pamby concepts like "customer delight" and "brand purpose" in favour of a sharper, more destructive set of goals in keeping with the marketing zeitgeist: competitive measures that focus on how efficiently and successfully a marketer has vanquished his opposition. Market share fits the bill. Penetration also feels like a suitably aggressive metric. It might also be fun to measure how effectively new customers are being acquired at the expense of key competitors.
Contemplating these measures of success underlines just how old-hat this "new" focus on killer marketing really is. Misappropriating military terminology like "war gaming" and "strategic thrusts" has become tired, a bit embarrassing and unnecessarily macho. Marketers and CEOs have known for a long time that sustainable competitive advantage can only be achieved by out-satisfying the competition. Rather than encouraging marketers to worry about what the competition is up to, this requires them to worry about the people who matter: the customers who you want to satisfy and the employees who you rely on to make them happy.
Adopting an unhealthy obsession with beating competitors will not help marketers' cause. More likely, this will further diminish their position in a world where sustainability, shared value and the triple bottom-line are discussed with mounting seriousness. In 1942, the economist Joseph Schumpeter described capitalism as a "perennial gale of creative destruction". Over 70 years later, I can't help but feel that we should have adopted a more enlightened view of marketing. If the majority of Dave Trott's work demonstrates anything, it is that business, after all, can be beautiful.