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Ten Marketing Cliches I Hate

Updated: Mar 14

Here are ten of my most hated cliches about marketing

You regularly see posts crop up on LinkedIn and other marketing content channels with one of these cliches in. What they tend to illustrate is the writer’s lack of knowledge about the marketing industry, or special pleading for an otherwise insupportable pitch. Like all cliches, they are lazy and show a lack of intellectual rigour.

Yes, I am a grumpy old marketer. Because marketing is based on culture, everyone is an expert. So the reason these tired half truths wind me up is they get repeated by non marketers, like CEOs, hiring managers and salesmen trying to sell marketing systems, and you have to wearily nod and smile and explain before you can move on. 

So in an attempt to widen the spread of true marketing knowledge, here are my top ten most hated cliches about marketing:

“PR is free advertising”

Tell that to the CMOs spending £30,000 a month on PR agencies. In the sense that word of mouth or a positive mention in editorial does not impose a direct cost on the organisation, Yes. It is free. 

However, the use of Public Relations, which includes reviewers, influencers and organic social media as a tactic takes up significant resources and, if you hire an agency, the financial costs are considerable. It may be worth the cost. It may not. You can only tell by running the numbers. If you leave your PR costs outside the marketing budget because you believe them to be inconsequential, you will never know.

“Marketing is an investment, not a cost”

Duh, obviously! Except for this. Have you ever bought bad marketing products or services? Have you ever tried selling advertising to someone who has been burned? They know it is a cost. So Good marketing is an investment, just like good property, good equity or good raw materials. Bad marketing is a cost.

“Marketing is not advertising”

Again already. Duh, Obvs! Except for a lot of businesses the everyday activity of a marketing department or agency is advertising campaign management. Yes, I am a great believer in running an iterative marketing strategy and regularly examining the KPIs and assumptions of the business, but that is perhaps 20% of the daily tasks of running a marketing function. Most of it is advertising.

“You don’t turn off the engines because you are flying”

This is from a quote ascribed to Lord Leverhulme, boss of Lever Bros, and it means you don’t turn off the marketing taps just because you are in a steady state phase in the product life cycle. And as far as that goes, it is - like all cliches - true. However, all products have a life cycle and if you fail to account for this and keep ad spend high when the product is in its descendancy, you are fighting the law of diminishing marginal returns. So, just like landing an aeroplane, you don’t turn the engines off, but you may back off the gas.

“If you can make £1 coins for 50p you would not need marketing”

This is ascribed to Lord Sugar and, like many aspects of his public persona there is a bit of “kidology” going on. Amstrad spent a lot on advertising. Just as Lord Sugar’s treatment of his staff is probably not as binary as it would appear from The Apprentice, his right hand man for many years, Nick Hewer, was his PR consultant. So, although it is not meant to be taken seriously, let’s examine this cliche. You can make £1 coins for 50p or less. The Royal Mint does just that. It has a legal monopoly, so if you wanted to change the law and become the supplier, you would need lobbyists, PRs, designers, and sales staff, so yes, in a word, marketing. 

“Digital is accountable”

Err ish! Media statistics have a wonderful history of vagueness. Now Google, Meta and others are continuing this time honoured tradition into the digital age. Consider this. You are buying your stats from the same people who sold you the ads. At least JICTAR, JICRAR and Nielsen had a semblance of objectivity. 

Compare your Meta analytics, showing the number of hits from social media to your site, with the number of hits on your site from this source. Then check it against your Google Analytics. Do the numbers match? No they don’t. Take a look at those hits. How many come from China, Russia or various other places which are never going to buy your product? How many come from sites set up specifically to bump up the numbers? Every month my Google Business account tells me I have been contacted by potential customers, when I haven’t.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found 23% of programmatic dollars, or about $20 billion out of $83 billion, was wasted. The only advertising cliche which holds true is that a quarter of the ad budget is wasted, the problem is finding which quarter. 

It has always been thus. All you should ever use these figures for is comparison. You compare last quarter with this one. You compare campaign A with campaign B. You do not use advertising metrics to gain absolute data.

“Marketing automation is the future”

There are a number of vendors who would love you to believe you can automate your marketing and remove the human element, increasing productivity by an order of magnitude and getting rid of those pesky execs who keep asking for things like pay rises and working from home.

While there is certainly fat to be cut and productivity to be gained from automating delivery and scheduling, the whole edifice relies on cloud architecture. So customer data, promotional content and such like can be combined to deliver a greater quantity and velocity of messaging. I doubt whether it can do so much for the quality of messaging - of which more later. 

However, what if you run out of stock of an item? SAAS marketing automation vendors do not universally develop APIs capable of synchronising data from eCommerce channels with the accounting, logistics, manufacturing and Enterprise Resource Planning systems which run the rest of the business. So Marketing Automation becomes just another silo of information. 

So, CRM Campaign automation at a basic level can be achieved with a cloud based silo of external data. However, as a lot of my career has been in this area I know in reality, automation means integration. That is the future, but it is expensive and hard.

“Marketing is a science”

Interestingly this very cliche was used once again last week on LinkedIn and was mentioned by Byron Sharp in an article. I am actually in favour of the work of organisations such as the Ehrenberg Bass Institute and specifically Byron Sharp. It is long overdue for scientific method to be applied to marketing, as it has been to the other aspects of business. He calls it “Marketing Science” and describes marketing as a skill based craft.

There are areas of marketing which are, to my mind, more of an art than a science, or even a craft. This is not restricted to creative messaging, although that is one such area and a significant one.

The key to science is repeatability. Drop a weight off a raised platform in any location in the world and it will fall to the ground at 9.81m/s2.

Give a marketing brief to ten different creatives and you will get ten different results. Run the same ad campaign in ten different locations and you will get ten different sets of results. 

Science is different from belief. Sometimes in marketing the best we have to work with is belief. Even so there are areas which benefit greatly from the application of the scientific method; data analytics, testing, benchmarking and so on. Just not the future facing creative and cultural aspects.

So I agree with Mr Sharp, and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, which I am sure will be a great relief to them, when he calls marketing, “a practice, a creative craft”

However, I think it can also be better than that. To me, marketing is the essence of entrepreneurship. It requires a mind which, while existing in the present, can envisage the future and create the process to bring that future into being. Marketing may be a creative craft, but creativity can be an art.

“AI will transform marketing”

There is a blog post by Tim Harford which came out last week which pretty much contains my own view on this subject. 

When spreadsheets first started to come into play for modelling alternative scenarios, their limitations quickly became apparent.

AI, like spreadsheets, is a tool and as such is only as good as the individual wielding it. Pablo Picasso, Enzo Ferrari, Irvine Walsh and Danny Boyle are creative. AI is not. Already we are seeing AI generated content which lacks any form of nuance, wit, wordcraft or other features which aid communication. AI will not deliver memorable advertising copy in the same way it will not write a best selling novel. People who cannot write or are lazy use AI generated copy and for that reason the result is lazy or poorly written copy.

What it may do is automate and refine the repetitive tasks within marketing, such as data analytics, artworking production, email, SEM and social media management, the application of targeting criteria to large data sets and so on. There is definitely a role for AI and a large one. It can help us be more productive, It will increase the quantity of communication, if not the quality. It will increase the velocity of campaigns, which in turn aids analysis. It will do some of the things we already do better and faster. You may call that transformative. Will it be transformative to the same degree as the printing press, railways, television or the internet? Will it result in the decimation of marketing jobs? Probably not. 

“Content is King”

Years ago, there were two means of direct response advertising. Direct mail and cold calling on the telephone. Each relied on scripts specifically designed for their task, because the exposure time was very limited. These tactics are still used by some categories of business, but it burns leads and such is the hostility to cold calling, it has righty decreased in popularity.

Digital delivery via email and the web has a longer shelf life, combined with a non confrontational or invasive exposure mechanism and a far richer delivery experience. This led to vendors of digital marketing systems telling us, “Cold calling is dead. On-line content is the future. Download our White Paper: Content Is King”.

However, if anything in marketing can be said to be marketing royalty, it is the product or service for which the customer is expected to pay. Words and pictures, video and sound, “content” merely describes it. You can do it well or badly, but work on the product or service experience before you work on the content.

Thanks for listening. I have added links in the comments section to the content I mention and credited the authors. If you would like more of this content, please hit the subscribe button and register on for updates.

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