Zoe Tabary | May 11th 2012 | @EG_MgtThinking
Like thousands of other fans, I greatly rejoiced on March 25th when the much-awaited fifth season of Mad Men (set in the 1960s, at a fictional advertising agency in New York City) came back to our screens. Apart from the love lives of Don Draper and Joan Harris, the show got me thinking about the role of marketers and how they are most likely to achieve success.
Back in the 1960s, better psychological insight—into white, straight men, but insight nonetheless—was a source of competitive advantage. Successful examples include McDonald’s, whose founder Ray Kroc based his whole business on the assumption that people don’t want the best burger in the world, they want one that’s as good as last time. Or the “reassuringly expensive” Stella Artois, which for 25 years proudly exhibited its premium price as a guarantee of quality.
Rory Sutherland, vice-president at Ogilvy Group UK and keynote speaker at the Economist's Big Rethink event in March, believes this type of marketing got lost along the way and that business decisions are now made on the basis of what is easier to justify. A report published by Forrester in 2011 argues that online marketers should be held accountable for revenue, rather than just lead generation. But Mr Sutherland thinks otherwise. “Rationality takes ideas that have originated creatively and forces you to post-rationalise them,” he says, arguing that brands should rather encourage irrationality, instinct and creativity. Owner or founder-run businesses, for example, are often more innovative because the owner is “free to be intelligent and illogical”.
So if rationality is stupid and instinct is genius, how should marketers work? Will the success of marketing teams rely on a small group of creative minds? “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”, Picasso said. Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs' partner in the creation of Apple, wrote in his memoirs that “most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me, they live in their heads”. But marketers, I believe, need other people to help them explore, challenge and develop great ideas. It takes more than one person to understand what an entire market wants.
But this is not to say that marketers ought to be given completely free rein to work solely within the creative realm. As much as creativity is essential, marketers need to match words with action. Coming up with an appealing brand messaging is a first step, but before consumers commit to a product, they will opt for the brand owned by a company they hold in high esteem. To help them do that, marketers need a good grounding in rationality, too.