On the failure of marketing (and civilization in general)

043 February 14, 2016 -- (asphalt)

"Marketing" is, or should be, in fact a bit of an umbrella term for at least two or three things.

Firstly, marketing is, or should be, the science that studies the needs of the market, or more exactly the needs of the people that make up the market. This is the so-called "market research": what products do people need and what can they (afford to) buy?

Secondly, marketing is, or should be, a set of techniques for making a market, or rather the people that make up a market, aware of the existence of some product, no more, no less. This is roughly the same as what people nowadays call "public relations".

It happens, as the history goes, that in the past few decades1 a slow but sure rupture between the term and its meaning occured, among others, in marketing, and this phenomenon will, I am assuming, continue along its path towards a slow and painful death. The meaning of marketing has already inflated, or rather, it has become more and more diluted, as definitions such as the couple above have shifted more from is to should-be.

To illustrate this, we will take a very simple example, that of the mobile phone2. A first observation would be that nowadays' mobile phones are no longer phones in the classic sense of the word, such that their stupid creators3 had to pollute the space of ideas with the new concept of smartphone. And this has been going on and on with the tablet, phablet and who knows what's next.

Notice how these new products are not really innovative. Smartphones are in fact mobile phones with an integrated camera of lower quality than previous dedicated cameras4 and an integrated computer of much less power5 than the average desktop computer, among the other integrated products, usually of lower quality than their predecessors. Tablets are bigger smartphones that can pack a bit more hardware, while phablets are, I don't know, FSM6 knows what. The next thing they'll do is try to put the same thing on the head unit of your car and in your fridge, in a desperate attempt to mix stuff together in the other new meta-buzzword called "the Internet of Things".

What's more outrageous is that the mobile phone has an artificially induced lifespan of about one to two years7. That is because most modern organizations impose themselves this magical thing called time-to-market, which means that a given product must imperatively be released until some given date. It doesn't matter that it's unusable, that it has bugs or that software engineering is a myth, they'll want it out by then and the armies of employees will have to work their asses off for that. That is, until the next iteration, when they'll ship with some other useless "features" and a set of new, shiny handicaps that'll make your life a nightmare. And I thought it was now long established that the only product worth buying once a year was the calendar, as per the ol' communist centralized planned economy model.

Although it doesn't look like it on a first glance, marketing is failing because it doesn't inform people of the existence of things that they need to buy. What it does instead is to aggressively lure them into wanting, that is, into believing that they need to buy a certain product, regardless of whether they actually do; or, more importantly, not.

How product owners do that is a whole different story. Branding is in fact not so harmful as one might believe. The introduction of jargon up to saturation is however a great source of confusion for clients, who don't feel safe delving into technical details, and thus they're given some weird term to cater to their naïveté. Returning to the smartphone example, tell me what Corning Gorilla Glass actually means and you win a prize. No, you don't know, you just trust8 what you're told, and the producers could give you a piece of post-processed horse manure as far as they're concerned, you'll still buy it.

This, combined with 24/7 mass propaganda are the things that make the market go round, "tech start-ups" gain billions of fake dollars9 and pop stars chill with their homies in their cribs.

Now, why they do that is yet another different story. They do it because it's easy, first and foremost. It didn't use to be easy back in the day, but it's gotten progressively so as the generations got dumber10 and the dumb taught their children to be even dumber, so that they just returned to shopping shortly after the airplanes took down at least a part of the non-dumbness that was left in this otherwise dumb "civilized" world.

Of course, "it's not marketing's fault"11 that marketing is failing, or has failed. The fault -- not a moral fault, but a deep, technical fault, in the sense of "failure" -- lies in a culture who found it easier to manipulate adults than to educate their children properly, where memes, tropes and quotes taken out of context hold more value than a book and where one must "do what they enjoy"12.

The net effect of this marketing that is not a marketing is post-religion, transitioning into full-blown fundamentalism.

Still think I'm full of shit? Here's what: take a popular video on YouTube, preferably one that you also like; look in the comments section, but promise you're going to read it in its entirety. If you don't see anything wrong with what's going on there, then there's the door, have fun with your Bieber and your tablet and stop wasting your time and my bandwidth.

  1. About roughly the same time as my age. Is this a coincidence? I have no idea.

  2. Although any product would do. Really. Go ahead, choose one. You'll be surprised by how most things have been twisted into useless junk by today's "marketing".

  3. Yes, I am looking at you, rotten Steve Jobs.

  4. Although the gap between the two has narrowed and it continues to do so.

  5. Not in terms of raw computing power, but in terms of what -- and this is a very broad "what" -- its master can do with it. You don't even own your smartphone, so you can only use it for whatever "apps" your master has designed for you. Oh, and the gap between these two will only continue to widen. Just look at your average mobile operating system.

  6. Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  7. Nobody cares of the poor hardware. Most sane people can and will still make use of that old Nokia 3310, and break someone's head with it in self-defense. There, integration!

  8. The takeaway message here is that trust does indeed mean something, only not on the mass market. No, not when you're one of the billion clueless consumers. So whatever you'd say, they tricked you into buying their latest and greatest.

  9. Don't tell me you thought WhatsApp are really worth that much. Well, you'll be surprised, sooner rather than later.

  10. Or maybe "the generations got dumber" is just bias? It might be, but this is a story for another time.

  11. On the same note as "information wants to be free".

  12. I'm probably a hedonist at least as much as anybody else, but the question is: if you look around you, can you easily spot the things that you don't enjoy? And moreover, what are you going do to purge them out of your life? Starting, say, yesterday.