When Marketing Turns Evil

I have an evil streak in me – a certain low-grade sociopathy that emerges in my personality whenever notions involving “marketing” cross my consciousness. As a teenage telemarketer, I was exposed to the dark arts of the hard-sell and as with any gateway drug, I quickly progressed through a series of marketing-related experiences that I’ve never let spoil a curricula vitae otherwise dedicated to wordsmithing.  

Mind you, not all marketers experience the shame I have, nor should they – unless they’ve done what I’ve done. I specialized in scaring homeowners into buying alarm systems by reading them the police blotter. Bad enough, right? Then I discovered the Internet. And invented spam.   You see, marketing is that peculiar twilight where the creative and commerce meet. What at first seems like harmony, however, rapidly degenerates into something else entirely.

Ever get your ears infected with ear-worms – or “jingles” as the Mad Ave tunesmiths call them? Yeah, that’s a songwriter who’s going to hell. Then there’s the marketing trolls hiding in the thickets of your Facebook account. Just remember “social media marketing” is the crack to traditional marketing’s cocaine.  

I didn’t feel evil about marketing until I was stuck in traffic on I-5 and my passenger pal threw on a Bill Hicks disk. The comedian opened with the line: “If anyone here is in marketing or advertising … kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I’m doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show.”  

Gulp. At first I was offended by the late Hicks’ words (he died of pancreatic cancer in the mid-’90s, or at least that’s what his marketing reps say). Clearly, not all marketing is intrinsically evil. My wife is a marketer – in plainest terms, she sells macaroni and cheese to other moms seeking a natural and organic alternative to the neon orange noodles we grew up on. I accept that marketing is a necessary part of the capitalist equation.

However, the type of marketing I’ve come to abhor, which I believe Hicks was decrying, occurs when people are convinced to spend their hard-earned money on crap they don’t need. Like the WineStraw.  

“Red wine, red teeth and red with embarrassment – sound familiar?  Not anymore.  It’s time for wine lovers to smile brighter!  Introducing WineStraws, the first (and only) straws that let wine lovers enjoy drinking red wine without compromising their smile, or the quality and taste of the wine.”  

I did not make this up. Nor this: “WineStraws are a chic, innovative and cost effective solution to red wine woes.” Say that three times fast – “red wine woes.” Did Satan show up?   Now, I appreciate the ingenuity, the process of isolating a pain-point in the consumer experience (stained teeth) and offering a simple, elegant and inexpensive solution. I also applaud the directness with which the marketing minds have laid out their pitch, which arrived in my inbox earlier this week. But, as any wine professional will tell you, wine lives in the nose as much as the palate. Unless there’s an attachment that goes up one’s nostril, I don’t see how the WineStraw aids one’s appreciation of wine so much as one’s vanity. After all, it’s inventor (whom I’ll leave nameless if not blameless) created the straws for, among others, “the wine lover who recently underwent professional teeth whitening …”  

Perhaps receiving these kind of releases is a sort of karmic payback for peddling fear and virtual pork products. I’ll take this bullet, Sonoma. And if I haven’t made my perceptions clear, permit me to report and opine simultaneously that, in a word, WineStraws suck.

via Sonoma News – News 2012 – Sonoma, CA