We reap the disHARMONY we sow

November 17, 2016

 

All this vitriol, it’s like a disease.

   

Of course, we humans love to discuss and debate. Often we disagree and argue. And when that happens, some of us patronize or belittle or dismiss or insult or bully.

   

But the abuse is now turning into an epidemic. The US Election is simply the latest example. On top of all the xenophobia, racism and misogyny, the level of hostility on display was something to behold.

   

It really is quite something when a presidential candidate refers to his rival as “such a nasty woman”, who’s “lied about a lot of things”, has “tremendous hate in her heart” and should be “locked up”.

 

And once the results started coming in, social media erupted with its predictable torrent of unpleasantness.

 

One spat in particular caught my eye because it involved a friend. Admittedly, he was putting forward his perspective on Trump’s appeal, as an observer not as a supporter. But within minutes he was being accused of defending Hitler.

 

Of course, it didn’t stop there. He came back hard, the accuser took another shot, the language degenerated, others waded in and it was “fight, fight, fight!”.

 

It’s all too easy to explain this away as a reaction to a few sociopaths. But everywhere you look now, you see it. People’s inner trolls out in the open.

 

Take marketing. There have always been debates in marketing. People have been arguing over functional versus emotional benefits for ever.

 

But just think how many head-to-heads there are running at the moment. Here are ten that spring to mind:

 

Customer-centric vs. business-centric

Short-term vs. long-term

Big data vs. small data

Acquisition vs. retention

Segmentation vs. mass marketing

Availability vs. connection

Maximising vs. satisficing

Traditional vs. digital media

Ad tech vs. ad ideas

Academic study vs. practical experience

 

Of course, in many ways this is healthy. It makes for an ever-changing and never-dull environment.

 

Marketers also like shiny new things. So we’re drawn to a new buzzword, we can’t resist a bit of hype. We also want to disrupt. We’re like bored children.

 

But it’s the tone of the argument that gets me. You see it most in the blogging world. Provocative articles attract streams of comments, which immediately form into Ayes and Noes.

 

Generally the argument retains a veneer of civility, but often not. I recently saw a comment from a high-profile marketing figure, criticising someone for using ‘time spent with a medium’ as a proxy for ‘time spent watching advertising’. His words were: “The writer of this article surely lost all his clients for making such an obvious mistake”. Why did he need to say it like that?

 

I think it’s because marketing, like everything else, is getting caught up in this whole bigger thing that going on. The everyone’s-brave-behind-a-keyboard thing. The I-don’t-even-care-I’ll-say-it-straight-to-your-face thing. The every-issue’s-black-and-white thing. The I’m-right-you’re-wrong thing. The I’m-clever-you’re-stupid thing. The Brexit thing. The Trump thing.

 

You could call it Disharmony. If the need for Harmony is about being in tune with others and considerate of their feelings, it’s certainly the opposite of that.

 

A big danger for marketing is the black-and-white thing, because marketing is rarely black and white. It’s neither a science nor an art, it’s a bit of both. Instinct and evidence. As Bob Hoffman said recently, there are no absolutes.

 

So you need to retain an ability to look at the other point of view, not just your own. Isn’t that what we’re meant to be good at, anyway?

 

I also think this is part of why senior management still doesn’t take marketing as seriously as we would like. It’s as if they’re saying: “Look at that bunch of squabblers, they can’t even agree among themselves.”

 

But there’s a broader danger. All this arguing, all this anger, and whatever’s fuelling it – insecurity, resentment, loss of control, lust for power, craving conformity - it’s really ugly, isn’t it?

 

And it’s becoming normalized. That means it’s increasingly on show.

 

So we should all take more care of our tone. I know Clinton’s advertising was trumped by Trump’s and he didn’t even have to pay for his. But one piece that was really powerful for me was her ‘Role Models’ ad, with children watching Trump on TV as he delivered some of his more choice remarks. It’s the children’s faces.

 

Remember, we reap what we sow.

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