Existential marketing

After writing about a marketing conference I recently attended, a friend asked me this: Don't [marketing] conferences kill off some small part of your soul? Does every part of our lives need to be sliced up and laid on a platter as a feast for marketers?

I stick my finger into marketing — it smells of nothing.
(with apologies to Kierkegaard)

This is totally a hot topic for me, and I really appreciate the question. To understand my thoughts on marketing, you first need to understand how I got into the industry.

Ten years ago, I started writing for a free rave magazine called Lotus. I was idealistic and enthusiastic and completely committed to the community I was serving. A year and a half later, I was promoted to Editor in Chief. It was my job to write/edit all sorts of awesome content all about the culture and lifestyle of raving, which I was beyond enthusiastic about. I made very, VERY little money (sound familiar, fellow magazine folks?) but was deeply committed to my work.

Since Lotus was free, it was supported entirely by its advertisers. Most of these advertisers were electronic music and event-related — lots of record labels, production companies, etc. As soon as I became editor, I started getting huge amounts of pressure from the publisher about editorial content. We needed more music coverage! More album reviews! More event listings!

Why did the publisher care? Because that's what the advertisers wanted to see. Maybe they weren't going to demand a review of the exact product they were advertising, but they at least wanted to know that readers turned to the magazine for information about that product, and therefore would be receptive to a related advertisement.

I was constantly battling for my lifestyle content — the publisher's push-back was that what advertiser cares about an article about yoga for ecstasy-gobbling ravers? Who's going to buy ads in conjunction with an article about harm reduction? These stupid society/culture articles don't sell ads! AND WE NEEDED TO SELL ADS.

Eventually, Lotus started running a fashion spread, because clothing advertisers wouldn't buy ads unless we had one. I fought hard for diversity in the models (all sizes! all colors! all shapes!) but ultimately lost.

See that blood stain? That's what was left after two years of beating my head against the brick wall of the editorial integrity/advertiser management. I started to get jaded, and wondered if the issue was that I worked for a free magazine supported by ads and not subscribers. So I attended the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University and learned all about the New York magazine world.

CPC was the final step in my jadation. I finally accepted the truth: 99% of magazines are glossy ad delivery systems. That's all they are. Content is just there to pad out the ads. Ultimately, unless a magazine is ad-free (Cook's Illustrated, Ms. Magazine, The Sun) the editorial is driven by advertising. That's the nature of the industry.

It was at this point, way back in 2001, that I decided to switch teams. If most magazine editorial is driven by commercial interests, then why am I making a piddly-squat editor's salary? Why not make GOOD MONEY writing the same stuff for corporations, which then supports me enough to pursue my own writing, with no worry of advertisers?

Hence, my marketing career.

I work in marketing because it's basically a lot of the same shit I was doing when I worked in magazines, except for that with marketing I actually make enough money to pursue my passions like blogging, dancing, writing books, and running comedy events. In other words, the marketing industry is my sole "advertiser" in the editorial that is my life as a writer. (Does that make sense?)

But I'm not only into marketing because I'm a whore. As a creative (artist, author, dancer, whatever), the most valuable skill you've got is your ability market yourself and your work. And the course of my career I've slurped up marketing strategies from all over the place — techniques that I've then used to effectively promote and sell my own personal projects. I'm not some huge corporation, but I'm happy to learn from the giants when it comes to selling my own slice of culture.

So, to get back to your question, no: marketing events don't kill my soul. I'm genuinely interested in my corner of marketing because I like learning about how people use the web to make decisions — whether that be who to date, what to read (my book, please!), or where to work (aka, my job @ Microsoft). I couldn't work in direct marketing (telemarketing, direct mail, spam), but the corner of social media marketing that I'm in is actually something I really enjoy because it gets down to psychology and sociology. How do people make decisions? How do the people around them (physically or online) influence those decisions? What works in guiding those decisions? What doesn't?

The biggest take-away line I got from the conference was this: "When advertising/marketing is truly targeted and contextual, it stops being advertising and starts being information." That's my goal, and something I've seen in full effect on offbeatbride.com.

  1. i didn't realize this until i put that tag cloud on my own site, but i write about culture way more than about marketing strategy. and the thing is all of culture is about "whoring." it's not just marketing's niche.

    so if you get that, there's no conflict. and if you don't get that, you have some delusions about culture. because to create any kind of content is to influence culture. music, art, writing, whatever. it's affecting culture, so it's SELLING something.

    to just blame marketing for all of this is silly.

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  2. great timing with this post :-)
    i've actually started to look into some web marketing classes so that i can learn how to sell myself a bit better (my site – assorted-stiles)…and maybe learn something to put into a new , but related, "day job".

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  3. "In other words, the marketing industry is my sole "advertiser" in the editorial that is my life as a writer. "

    this sums it up about perfectly…i love clarity

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  4. I've been thinking a lot about marketing and avertising vs. information lately, especially inasmuch as so much advertising is so non-informative.

    The industry would do well to evolve away from promotion and persuasion and toward information. I find that when advertising is pushy and marketing is unsolicited, I lose all patience with and interest in it. If the information comes to me because I have sought it out, however, I am much more likely to consider it closely and make decisions which may be influenced by it.

    I think there are a lot of people in our demographic (educated, 30-ish, independent) who are really turned-off by traditional advertising and marketing, but are not averse to well-packaged and targeted information.

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  5. I've never thought of it that way. Maybe I should start looking for a marketing job so I can afford the writer's life. hehe. ;)

    p.s. The pearl of wisdom in the last paragraph is great!

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