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Marketing: Good or Evil?

A knight posed with a sword drawn

This long weekend, I watched ALL SIX Star Wars episodes, in “chronological” order, i.e. Episode 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then 6. Never having done this before, it was quite eye-opening and perhaps “sunk in” better than it ever did before.

Central to the story is the theme of Good versus Evil. Some things we “expect” as evil, such as hatred, jealousy and greed, obviously lead to “the Dark Side”. Others mentioned, like fear, even of losing a loved one or something we care about, seem less obvious or recognizable as “evil” but they too lead to the same conclusion.  It seems so very easy for a good person to slip over to the “Dark” side by not having control over these seemingly understandable fears.

That said, it is Good versus Evil.  No in-between.

So, what am I?  I sit here writing as CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., after 20 years in the profession of marketing. Marketing is often perceived to be an “evil” profession.  Take a look at this hilarious cartoon on our Facebook Page by Tom Fishburne, also known as “The Marketoonist” on that very subject.  Marketers are forever accused of “shoving information” in our faces, interrupting peaceful lives, bending the truth and pulling every trick in the book to get attention.   Are we, by definition, already on the “Dark” side?

I do think we are at risk of it, certainly.  After all, you’ve GOTTA get results.   Perhaps this is the “fear” that is underlying the evil that comes through marketing — fear of failure, fear of not having happy clients, fear of paying your overhead — all motivating a marketer into saying what it takes to get results via half-truths.

The answer, I think comes through choosing the “causes” for which you market very carefully.  You simply must choose things you feel certain about– and bother to really check them out yourself so you know you are not promoting anything you wouldn’t use or endorse yourself, personally.   This is why at Tenato, you’ll see our mission, in a nutshell, is “Helping the Good Guys Win”.  If we have used our “superpowers” to help anyone but “good guys” (and we have made a few errors in judgement over the years) I can tell you, there is a profound amount of regret.  If you, as a marketer, always market the “good guys” then you need only tell the truth, and you can do it in a clear, ethical way.

It may seem like a tall order, but I’ll give you a few examples how we have worked to keep away from the “Dark Side” over the years:

  1. Fitness Club.   We tried it several times, and then bought year-long memberships to ensure we knew first-hand how good it was. It is indeed as great as expected and has done us a world of good physically!
  2. Investment Company.  We believed in it — and put in our own money.  We lost it.  We’ve been very, very cautious promoting investment offerings since then.
  3. Hot Tub Manufacturer.  We bought one of the company’s hot tubs.  It had huge mechanical issues (about 14 parts missing or incomplete).  The relationship was over.
  4. Plumbing Company.  Great people, consistently good service. The only place we ever call for plumbing assistance, and a client for many years.
  5. Oil Company.  Sincere environmental programs, nothing to hide.   Took them right to the community so they could meet face to face, and the locals were very happy and comfortable with the entire process.

So, as far as marketing goes, the answer is this:   Are you telling the truth, or at least, what you believe to be the truth?  Is the client good at the core?  And have you done your due diligence in uncovering, to the best of your abilities, any clear faults which should prevent the client from being marketed?  Most importantly, have you told the truth in your communications and treated the audience respectfully?

If the answer is yes, you are on the right side of Good vs. Evil.

But never fail to continually scrutinize yourself and your clients.  As Yoda will tell you, “Hard to see, the Dark Side is.”

PS.  Got anything to add?  Ethical dilemmas?  Bad client stories?  Feel free to share – I do respond personally.


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About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."