The Failure of Marketing (and the Marketing of Failure)

I respect the work of those honest people who practice or study marketing. There’s a place for marketing, and even a place for marketing public projects. In the end, though, it’s the product or service, not the presentation of it, that matters most.

There should be nothing startling in so declaring, but for the marketeers of public projects to say as much is unwelcome. There are any number of men and women who will insist that presentation is everything, and that if one can simply describe a thing in an effective way, it will be – necessarily – an effective thing.

Still, a thing is not the description, presentation, characterization, spin, selling, relationship-building, or marketing, etc., of it.

That’s the failure of marketing: that it cannot make a truly bad thing good, as it cannot compellingly refute the irreducible distinction between object and description.

Those who are manipulative marketeers would deny this claim of failure as naive, as an underestimation of their supposed powers. Clever, glib men believe that anything can be sold. Anything.

They exalt the power of marketing, and so they’ll market even failure, describing it as success.

They are practitioners of a would-be, modern-day alchemy – the transformation of lead into gold. The actual project matters less, for example, than how a sycophantic reporter describes it, because the parroted headline, itself, turns coal into a diamond.

One might be looking, for example, at a multi-million-dollar shell (waste at public expense), but if one glances aside for even a moment at a toady’s fawning words, to look back is to see the Taj Mahal.

That’s why advocates of just about every big public project devote ample time to how they’ll market their latest and (assuredly!) greatest.

It’s as though they saw Wag the Dog, with its satire of political spin, and thought that it was a how-to guide for legitimate policy.

To the gentlemen who think that repeating the same false claims eight or even eighteen times, believing that so doing transforms dross into fine alloys, or beguiles others into believing in that transformation: such repetition neither transforms nor beguiles. A good thing sells itself.

One need only examine the projects themselves, objectively and against the claims made on their behalf, to see the fundamental truth.

Next: How You, Too, Can Be a Smooth-Talking, Super-Sophisticated Marketeer (Assuming You’d Be Foolish Enough to Want to Be One).