Tone Deafness, Marketing Style


Lord knows our country, and the entire world for that matter, is tone deaf on a great number of topics. I have my own thoughts and opinions on many of these topics and I will gladly regale you with my views over a virtual coffee/zoom at each of our earliest conveniences. Just drop me a line and let’s go.

However, in the hallowed halls of the world headquarters of The CMO Whisperer, we are all about marketing and marketers, hence the title of this post. Yes, today kids it’s all about the head-scratching, why-do-you-have-your-job, utter out of touch state of mind so many marketers parade on a nearly daily basis.

The Latest Example

Rest assured the example I will share today is merely the latest example when it comes to the obliviousness marketers have. And it will not be the last example by a long shot.

I came across the basis for my, well I guess you could call it a rant, via my man Joe Mandese the Editor in Chief at MediaPost. A few weeks ago he scribed What The Marketing Word of the Year Should Be, For Those Who Care in which he shared with readers the “Marketing Word-of-the-Year” for 2020 as per a poll of marketers conducted by the Association of National Advertisers.

It is this one word which prompted me to write this piece. I was absolutely compelled to out call marketers for choosing this particular word as its Word of the Year.

Before I get to the word, some brilliance from Joe, starting with the very first words out of his mouth, so to speak.

“Coming out of what may well be the greatest year of self-reflection for all of society, the ad industry had a huge opportunity — and it blew it. Instead of learning the lesson of what makes a brand most relevant in the throes of an existential crisis like a global pandemic, the industry has chosen not to think about the impact on its customers, but on itself.”

Reading phrases like “the industry has chosen not to think about the impact on its customers, but on itself” reminded me of something I penned not all that long ago, aptly titled Hey Marketers, This Is Not About You, It’s About Them.

So, what was the word, Steve? Get to it already!

[[cue the drum roll]]

The Marketing Word of the Year for 2020 was… pivot.

Yes, pivot.

Mandese summed the choice of this word perfectly acknowledging what while it is “a powerful business term for early-stage businesses… it’s not one that should sum up how the world’s greatest marketers reflected on one of the world’s greatest existential threats.”

Now Joe, being the MUCH better man than I, threw those who selected this God-awful word a few bones, adding “On the plus side, it shows that Madison Avenue has embraced some of the positive attributes of Silicon Valley, especially the concept of ‘agility,’ which, along with ‘resiliency’ and ‘virtual,’ were runners-up for 2020’s marketing word-of-the-year.”

That’s right kids, here are the words that were in contention for Marketing Word of the Year:

  • Pivot
  • Agility
  • Resiliency
  • Virtual

[[cue the head slap]]


Joe, help me, please…

“On the downside, it shows that the world’s leading marketers are far more introspective than I would have thought, and that they failed to identify the most important element of 2020 from a consumer perspective: the need to show how and why brands care for their customers — not themselves — during an existential crisis.”

Once again, Joe is significantly nicer than yours truly as witnessed by his use of words like “the world’s leading marketers are far more introspective” and “failed to identify the most important element of 2020 from a consumer perspective.”

If I were to translate Joe’s words into mine, one would see phrases like “get your head out of your ass” and “Hey Numbnuts, without customers you have no job so how’s about you drop the self-indulgence garbage and put their damn needs ahead of yours!”

What the 2020 Marketing Word of the Year SHOULD Have Been

Take it away, Joe: “The most important marketing word of the year for 2020 was ’empathy.'”

Why in the name of all things Holy should ANYONE have to explain this to ANYONE?

[[cue the conference room where this decision was made. fade in on a group of seasoned marketers]]

Out of Touch Marketer: [[seated at the head of the table]]

“So what’s our word for the year gonna be? Empathy? Why empathy? Ok, ok, I know we’re supposed to be empathetic to consumers because all that’s happened but that word is just too… um, boring. It doesn’t make me want to go buy something. Sure it’s warm and fuzzy and all, yadda, yadda, yadda. But we are marketers. Our job is to market.”

[[thinks for a while]]

“I got it. The word of the year will be pivot! We had to constantly pivot. We had to pivot so many different things last year we lost count. We pivoted over and over and over…”

[[Interrupting]] Lower Level Employee:

“Pardon me, but you keep using the word ‘we.’ Shouldn’t it be about ‘them’ as in our customers and what THEY had to deal with all year?

[[pronounced pause followed by uproarious laughter across the entire room]]

[[fade to black]]

Or better still, fade to red as in this company will be operating in the red.

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