Is Marketing the Root of All Evil?
Money isn’t the root of all evil. Marketing is. Because marketing can be done without a budget. Just ask most suits in the corner offices. Or the one office in your open work space.
This is not to say that all marketing is evil. Marketing can be used for good, and when done right and for the right reasons, marketing can actually do good. Most marketing for most non-profits — done without much of a budget in most cases — is doing good, even when the marketing is crap. (Not having a budget tends to have that effect unless you’re really, really good, which too few are.) Its intention can be nothing but good because how can anything marketing animal rescue or cancer support or protecting women from violence be anything else?
And that’s the dividing line: Intention.
Earlier this week, Gillette, the company that has hocked razors and related products to the world’s men with the tagline “The best a man can get” for the last thirty years released a video that had all the earmarks of a Super Bowl ad. It was well-produced, was a departure from the standard ad, and people are talking about it. But it’s so much more than an ad because the company is calling it a short film.
Of all the companies who have stepped in to the arena to make a statement to appear woke or on the right side of history to their customers, Gillette is the only one to do it right. That is, they didn’t appear woke and righteous. They looked internally and spoke honestly about themselves. Whether you agree that they needed to or not doesn’t matter. What matters is how Gillette chose to play its marketing hand. The video, born of the #MeToo and anti-bullying movements, never felt like, “And buy our razors.” I applaud them for that.
It’s a far cry from Pepsi’s absurd and infamous attempt to market themselves as standing with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Walmart has long faced criticism for its working conditions and for leading the assault on mom and pop shops who can’t compete with the big box store’s low prices and, well, marketing muscle. Such is the cost of capitalism. Walmart has challenged the criticism and defended its practices with ads focused on its employees intended to make our hearts melt.
Its YouTube page says “Walmart is all about helping millions of families save money and live better.” There’s some truth to that. I know I’ve saved money by purchasing stuff I probably didn’t need at Walmart versus anywhere else. But there’s also no way to deny that Walmart’s marketing is ultimately designed to do one thing: Drive people into the stores and increase profits. And that’s why it’s the world’s largest retailer.
Driving people to shop at their stores is something Walmart’s marketing recently took literally:
All things being balanced, Walmart is wise enough to know that with great retail power comes great charitable responsibility. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation donated over $1 billion in cash and in kind in FY ’16. That’s not unlike the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s open check book. It’d be hard for the Gates’ to be so generous if Billy hadn’t been such a ruthless capitalist in his younger years.
Starbucks has tried and failed over and again with its marketing attempts to appear woke. Granted, the backlash from the Christmas cup/holiday cup — whatever — was ridiculous, but the Race Together campaign was jaw dropping and eye rolling for anyone with half a brain. It was executed poorly at every level of the marketing process. And, like Walmart, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the world’s largest coffee purveyor is interested in anything other than taking your money. The reverse race baiting was purely to lure in more liberals on the hard hunt for pumpkin spice. It, like Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad, failed with grandiose flair.
Gillette doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. It felt genuine. It is a marketing success. But also, “Buy our razors because Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s ain’t woke like we are.” There’s just no escaping it; for-profit companies need our money and they’ll do anything to get it. In this case, Gillette did it right.
Marketing will always be a good reason to do something self-serving. Good marketing makes it feel altruistic even when it’s not.