Marketer’s Curse

I was having a passionate argument with my colleagues about the intricacies of our landing page. What inspires a click more, a picture of people smiling and laughing, or a picture of a graph?

Here’s the cruel joke: You become a marketer, or are drawn to marketing in some shape or form, because you love ideas.

We’re going to test this. My instinct tells me that “people smiling and laughing” is actually always going to perform the worst. There are a couple of good ol’ David Ogilvy quotes that confirm my suspicions about this:

“What do work are photographs which arouse the reader’s curiosity. He glances at the photograph and says to himself, “What goes on here?” Then he reads your copy to find out. This is the trap to set.

Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal,”and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements. […]

Knowing from Rudolph that a strong dose of “story appeal” would make readers stop and take notice, I concocted eighteen different ways to inject this magic ingredient. The eighteenth was the eye patch. At first we rejected it in favor of a more obvious idea, but on the way to the studio I ducked into a drugstore and bought an eye patch for $1.50. Exactly why it turned out to be so successful, I shall never know. It put Hathaway on the map after 116 years of relative obscurity. Seldom, if ever, has a national brand been created so fast, or at such low cost. Articles were written about it in newspapers and magazines all over the world. Scores of other manufacturers stole it for their own advertising–I have seen five copies from Denmark alone. What struck me as a moderate good idea for a wet Tuesday morning made me famous. I could have wished for fame to come for a more serious achievement.”

Ira Glass has talked about something similar– he called it The Gap.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

That’s the curse, in essence. That you get into marketing because you have a refined taste about what good marketing is, but then struggle to relate to the ‘average consumer’- because you care about things that others don’t.

There seem to be a few different approaches to this. One is to be Steve Jobs and say that you know better. Another is to eat humble pie and reconfigure your tastes.

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