Spam is not Marketing

Yesterday I attended a marketing conference and the keynote speaker was Jason Scott, the man behind the famous Twitter account @sockington.  @sockington is an account where Jason Twitters in the voice of his cat.  He has well over 1 million followers (to give you an idea that’s more than Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake or TechCrunch).  It’s an entertaining Twitter feed to follow if you are looking for a laugh and sort of has to be seen to be fully understood.

The title of his talk was “Building a Cult Brand on Twitter” which he’s certainly done.  The talk started out fine but at about the 5 minute mark Jason described how much he hates marketing.  He later qualified that statement by saying he didn’t hate all marketing, marketers and aspects of marketing, only “evil marketing, marketers and aspects of marketing.” however, it was clear that he viewed the vast majority of marketing as in the evil category.  He showed several examples of “marketing” on Twitter, all of which were basically spam.  The rest of his talk (which was pretty funny I might add) focused on demonstrating to a room full of marketers the various forms of evil marketing and imploring us to stop doing this because it’s really annoying.

I can understand why Jason thinks that marketing is the same as spam and therefore evil.   He isn’t a marketer and probably doesn’t interact with marketers on a day to day basis with the exception of Twitter spammers who are understandably driving him crazy.  He likely doesn’t know any marketers that understand segmentation and positioning and know that spam is not only “evil” but a pretty lousy way to get folks to take action.

What surprised me though was the reaction from the crowd.  A room filled with hundreds of marketers seemed to agree with him.  The Twitter stream was full of positive feedback.  Funny as he was, he was basically calling us evil spammers, and the crowd was accepting of that.  Perhaps they were all like me and held back from Twittering their disapproval because of how difficult it would be to do that in 140 characters without insulting Jason personally or the conference organizers who chose to have him speak.  Maybe folks were just happy to hear him be entertaining and basically ignored his message.  Maybe.

Here’s what I know.  Spam is what happens when there is an absence of marketing.  It’s what happens when you don’t think about what customers want and don’t care about building offerings for them.  It’s what happens when you don’t care about market segments and you believe a cat, a CEO and a teenager are equally likely to click on your link.  I’ve worked with literally hundreds of marketers in my career and not a single one of them fits Jason’s profile of what he believes marketers are.

I don’t expect Jason to understand the profession of marketing but I do expect a room full of marketers to understand it and anyone in that room that thought it was OK to characterize us the way he did should be offended and working to change that perception.  My message for Jason is this – you don’t hate marketing, you actually wish there was more of it.

Finally I want to point out to the folks looking for speakers on marketing topics that there are thousands of great marketers out there doing amazing things that I for one would love to hear and learn from.  We all like to be entertained but I’m tired of seeing celebrities and humorists being held up as authorities on marketing.

What do you think?  I know a lot of you were at the same conference I was.  Do you agree that most marketers are spammers?  Let me know in the comments.

**Update** Jason Scott responds in the comments so please read that too….

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17 thoughts on “Spam is not Marketing”

  1. I didn’t seem to get the same impression. I think what he was trying to get at was that he disliked insincere and exploitive marketing tactics. I understand your point of view that sometimes people can make a blanketed statement that all marketing is ‘evil’ but with Jason I don’t think that was the case.
    I think the point that he was looking to get across was that marketing that looks to squeeze every dollar from you is wrong. For the most part this isn’t the norm with marketing but unfortunately there will always be people out there who look to make a quick buck and make marketing as a whole look bad.

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  5. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I totally agree that Jason’s point was exactly that. Spam is terrible. Who wouldn’t agree with that? My point is that a room full of folks that call themselves marketers would never do those sorts of tactics. Spam isn’t marketing and nobody I know that calls themselves a marketer would sell that way. I hate spam too. That’s exactly why I don’t like the perception that spam represents what I do or my profession. It doesn’t and it’s pointless for Jason to tell a room full of marketers to stop spamming. We aren’t spammers.
    I don’t agree that spammers make marketing look bad. If anything, spammers demonstrate to us the need for proper marketing.
    April

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  7. Well, hello. I figured there’d be more of you, as well.
    Here’s the thing. First of all, I deal with a bunch of marketers and have done so for quite a few years – Sockington is the big thing I’m known for now but I’ve had my scary hands in a lot of variant pies. In fact, one might feel liberal and consider me a marketer as well – I have promoted films I make as a documentary filmmaker, and in doing so have had to deal with people as promoter, salesman, customer service, and all the other roles.
    Eli let us know about a week before the event that our talks would be limited to 15 minutes (with 10 minutes for talk). We also had our talk topics assigned to us. I rebelled on both counts, so my talk was a little longer than that, but not much. This meant I could cover some portion of what I wanted to say, but I would totally understand if subtleties were lost. So let’s focus on one that might have helped.
    “Spammer” is just your word for “person who uses techniques I don’t like or think are obviously harmful”, but in point of fact the assault on Sockington’s audience has ranged to a much greater amount than just simple linkspam. As I mentioned in the talk, people have contacted me in full human non-bot language asking Socks to mention things in return for potential cash. I’ve had places try to get him to endorse things, not necessarily because it would make sense for a virtual cat to spontaneously “endorse” half this stuff, but because his audience represents easy mindshare. I had one awesome human vermin talk “about” Socks in his twitter feed, alleging that he shouldn’t be on twitter because Sockington violates terms of service of Twitter. Then, he started writing that I was trying to have him silenced and removed from twitter. When I finally called the guy at his house to tell him to knock it off, he was all sweetness and smiles, and then started twittering that I was calling him at his house.
    The thing is, people who do awful things, like some marketers, very rarely think they’re doing awful things. They do awful things because they’ve convinced themselves they’re doing good things. It’s great to follow and follow and make up fake friendships, because that’s building your audience. It’s good to send girls into bars with buckets of free drinks to smile and charm lonely men into thinking someone is paying attention to them. It’s good to refer to coagulate language into meaningless phrases because of a lowest common denominator approach to communication in the name of selling.
    The mind, you see, is quite capable of convincing itself of a lot of things. This is what I was addressing – the slow descent of realizing that you can get a slightly nicer car if you don’t go out of your way to point out that a product can make people sick, or to hound vulnerable people temporarily in a world spotlight into allowing your client’s product to sit on a table near them. What does it hurt? Who does it hurt? The shift is slow, methodical, and can take a long time. This is what I wanted to get across. In 20 minutes. While being funny.
    I did my best. I stand by it. Don’t act like marketing is just “the good stuff”, and I promise I won’t act like marketing is just “the bad stuff”.

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  9. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the folks here will get to read your take on it. I want to be perfectly clear that I thought your talk was great – I just disagree with your characterization of marketing and wondered why more people in the audience didn’t.
    Maybe you’re right – maybe I’m being too easy on marketers and perhaps we need to be reminded more to not be “evil”. But again, in my marketing career I’ve never been involved in a project where we deliberately planned to harm people.
    Your point on people asking you to promote products is an interesting example though. I wouldn’t see it as “evil” to ask you if you were interested in being involved with a company. I wouldn’t see you as “vulnerable”. I would assume you would just say no if you didn’t think it fit with what stand for or what you want to do. Trying to force you to do something would be evil but I don’t think it’s obvious to companies out there (if they haven’t heard you speak) that you would be offended if asked. I might assume for example that you’re interested in animal rights and ask you if you would want to work with a company doing that. If you aren’t you say no. As the celebrity you get to decide what’s evil and what isn’t and vote with your decisions. If Bono can sell ipods then sockington might want to sell cat food. Celebrity endorsements are common so I guess I don’t know until I ask.
    I work in technology marketing so I don’t have much experience working with celebrities. Are all celebrity endorsements evil and manipulative? Is there a difference between Bono selling ipods and Angelina Jolie doing charity work and a famous cat selling cat food? I honestly haven’t given it much thought but perhaps you’re right.
    Now you are making me think so thanks for that!
    April

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  14. Hi April (and Jason):
    I thoroughly enjoyed Jason’s talk and, as a non-marketer, also wondered why it was included in the day other than to be amusing. Now I know more, so quite appreciate this discussion.
    April, while we might hope those people we know would know better, I’m afraid to say this is not always the case. Sometimes what we think is obvious needs to be pointed out. And it was not just marketers in the audience, so hopefully this will help them (us) distinguish the good from the bad when seeking to hire a professional.
    Cheers!
    Connie

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