The Dumbing Down Of Marketing

man-in-dunce-capcropOver the past year, I’ve been having a conversation with clients, co-workers, friends and family about “the state of marketing” and the results are in.  Marketing (and its various forms) seems to be dumbing down more and more. And since I’m not wired to accept mediocrity or any real form of laziness, allow me just this one time to channel my best Peter Finch (in the movie Network) and say “I’m as mad as hell and won’t take it anymore!”

Can someone please tell me why this is going on? In what forms does this dumbing down of marketing play itself out? Well, for starters, open up any newspaper, magazine or trade pub. Turn on any TV or radio station. Drive down the street and look at the billboards or bus panels. And even online.  It’s all around us… at home, at work… even on vacation. There’s isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see some sort of advertising or marketing effort and say “what in the world are they trying to say?” This coming from a guy who, as humbly as I can say this, can put 2 and 2 together pretty darn quick. But the mental gymnastics that I have to do to try and get the point, if I can get there at all, is becoming more and more prevalent. In most cases, the message is convoluted. Other times, the message is beyond generic so much so that any company in that industry (and in many cases, in another industry) could say the same thing. Oh and then let’s not forget about puns or borrowing from successful campaigns (“Got Dog Food?”  “Got Rice?”)  Many times the channel isn’t right for the message and the message is obviously shoe-horned into the event or activity. Whether B2B or B2C environments, it goes on. Please tell me that you’re seeing the same thing. You are, right?

Additionally, I’m gobsmacked (haven’t used that word in a while) at the type of “discussions” on issues that are being pondered within some of the LinkedIn groups of which I’m a member. From the “Is it important that Sales and Marketing be on the same page?” to discussions that people dare not ask of their coworker “How do I go about finding a direct mail printer?”  Not to mention the blogs that deal with the details of details. On top of that, there also seems to be this craze for incorporating each new marketing tool, channel or approach (“the next big thing”) as though it will be the silver bullet to all the company’s marketing problems. And, to make matters worse, there’s a sprint to implement each new specialty, and in doing so, marketing starts heading down the slippery slope of actually getting further away from understanding the real world in which prospects and customers make purchasing choices. I think we can agree that this is neither good for the organization or for business as a whole. Not good at all.

OK, at what point in time was it decided that DIY is as good as what a successful outside marketing firm could provide? My business partner coined a phrase that I really like: “DIY is pervasive but hardly persuasive.”  Yet it seems to be what we’re seeing in the world today. The seemingly fun and economical do-it-yourself route usually leads to less than optimal results. Just because one understands how to use some design software doesn’t mean the outcome will help in achieving the goals set for that individual piece of marketing material.  I think that we might all agree that what separates the best work from the rest of the herd is what one does with the tools and not the tools themselves.

Another way that I see dumbing down happening is but the shear amount of specialization that goes on. This is not to say that being a specialist is a bad thing…it’s not… but as the marketplace continues to evolve and in so doing become more complicated, there are lots of marketers who know more about less and less due to being so specialized. What I mean is that these “specialists” are so focused on what they’re good at, they forget that you can’t solve an equation by concentrating only on parts of it. They can’t see the forest for the trees!

So how did this all come about? Well, as CEOs and CMOs whacked away at their marketing budgets over the last decade, they stopped hiring the most experienced and talented marketing professionals, the guys and gals with real degrees in marketing and gray hair earned on the battlefields of brand-building.  Instead, they hired people with “3-5 years experience” or moved over someone from human resources or finance or even the clerical pool to fulfill the marketing. Or they brought in specialists with social media or website experience and made them responsible for the whole marketing affair. Is it any wonder, then, that we’re seeing the kind of marketing on exhibit every day?

With the marketplace getting more complex and customers becoming more sophisticated than ever, now’s not the time to dumb things down but to think and behave like smart marketers once again.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


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