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Marketing Gurus And Marketing Morons

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

Dr. John Dawes nails it. In a white paper titled Marketing Gurus and Fads – how to avoid them, Dawes writes:

“Marketing abounds with ‘fads’ – which over-promise and under-deliver. These messages are sometimes presented as the ‘secrets’ of companies that are supposedly fantastically successful at the moment. The sad fact is that most of these messages are incredibly over-optimistic and at worst, downright deceitful.”

Dawes defines some of the techniques that marketing gurus use, like:

1. Using concepts we already believe in. As an example, Dawes cites a recent text, “The New Marketing Manifesto”, which relates the “12 Rules of New Marketing” (not old marketing, mind you). Rule 1 is ‘Get Up Close and Personal,’ Rule 2 is  ‘Tap Basic Human Needs.’ As Dawes says “this is essentially about understanding customers, doing things customers like, and creating likeable advertising.”

2. Over-generalizing a specific example. This is when gurus attribute the success of a company to one thing–the thing the guru is trying to sell (e..g, customer intimacy, focus, etc.). Dawes suggests that when we hear a guru do this we should ask “you are suggesting that the company was successful only because of X. How do we know that it would not have been as successful without doing that?”

3. Tautologies.A tautology is logically true, but says nothing useful. Dawes’ marketing example is “for a new brand to succeed, every aspect of the marketing mix must be right.”

4. Taking anything that sounds vaguely good and claiming it is an example.

5. Thinking up a catchy list of words. As an example, Dawes mentions a “European academic who thought up the ‘twenty one R’s’ of marketing.” As Dawes says, “this is just catchy list creation masquerading as good ideas.”

Dawes continues by doing a great job of tearing up the “emotional branding” fad. All in all, a great paper. It’s short and readable–not the all-too-typical long-winded, overblown hooha that marketing professors publish in the name of “marketing science.”


Dawes does leave one question unanswered, however:

Why do marketing gurus succeed and persist?

The simple answer is: Because marketing morons exist.

Go back to the laws of economics, folks. A market is made when there is both a demand for a product or service and a supply of that product/service.

Marketing gurus/fads are the supply. Silverbulletitis is the demand. I first wrote about this affliction, which many marketers suffer from, about six years ago. I defined it as:

A condition in which the sufferer expects easy answers and solutions to difficult problems.

By virtue of reading this blog post, you’ve self-selected yourself into a group of marketers that don’t suffer from this condition. I’ve been very fortunate that the readers of this blog are the intellectual cream of the marketing crop.

The problem, however, are your lazy, pea-brained marketing colleagues. They’re not physically lazy (wouldn’t want to offend my fellow-couch potatoes). They’re intellectually lazy. They’re not willing to accept the fact that marketing is hard. It’s a science (or could be) and an art (or should be). Not willing to accept the fact that human behavior is complex, and that defining, designing, and executing marketing strategies that seek to shape and capitalize on these complex behaviors is hard.

In other words, your colleagues are marketing morons (they may not be morons in a more general sense, but hey, they might be).


Dawes’ paper does a great job of helping us recognize and understand the techniques marketing gurus use to ply their trade (hell, it might even become a good guide to help some of us become marketing gurus).

But as long as marketing morons walk among us, the supply of marketing gurus won’t diminish.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

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  1. Good one. #3 is the best LOL trait. As an aside, after reading something like “intellectual cream of the marketing crop”, I didn’t know whether to be honored or petition W3C to introduce a special HTML tag for precisely such lines:)

  2. Ron,

    This is great stuff (along with your “How To Spot a Marketing Moron” post). While I’m probably more moron than genius, I’ll add another thought: (fake) marketing geniuses try to apply examples from other industries to your own. For example, banking and credit union consultants talk repeatedly about how financial institutions need to be more like Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Disney or (insert your favorite big brand). The reality, however, is those are different business models and require different strategic approaches. A guru gives you a hard core example. A moron gives you a cliche example. Now I’m off to talk about emotional branding and Disney.


  3. I think you pretty much proved you are NOT a moron with this comment. 🙂

  4. Julie James says:

    Tautologies. Ugh. I can’t take that any more. I’ll never get those 2 seconds back where someone just made a statement so obvious I thought it was a joke. But, sadly, it was not. It was just a Tautology!

  5. Cheers Ron, we seem to share the same views !!!

    I’ve been thinking vaguely about doing an update. There are all sorts of new gurus and old ideas masquerading as new out there.

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