Mendelson’s Marketing School: Advertising IS Marketing, Stop Saying They’re Different

Photo by Joe Hernandez on Unsplash

Part of the reason this project exists is that many marketing gurus and experts haven’t actually read a marketing textbook. Or taken a marketing course. Or got a degree in marketing.

To be clear, you don’t NEED to do these things to understand how to promote yourself or your product. My grandfather had an elementary school education and still ran a successful small business in Brooklyn.

But, call me old-fashioned, I think that if you’re going to call yourself an expert, or position yourself as one to get speaking engagements and book deals … You should know a thing or two about the thing you’re talking about.

Otherwise, you’re just admitting more methane into the atmosphere, and this planet can’t take any more of that.

Case in point: Many people want to know if marketing and advertising are the same things, and these alleged marketing experts will tell you that they’re not the same thing. They will say, in fact, that marketing and advertising are two separate things, and that one is better than the other. They are wrong.

In part, this BS is fueled by Facebook and Google because they want you to use their products. Since Marketing, to them, can’t be quantified well, which companies like them really don’t like, advertising is separated out as its own thing, because it can be measured and optimized.

At least, that’s what they say anyway, but the world is far more messier than you’d think. But I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Let’s focus just on this for today: Marketing and advertising are the same things.

Think about it like this: Marketing is the professional wrestling ring. Advertising is one of the wrestlers in that ring. No ring, no wrestling match.

(Yes. I know. You don’t always need a ring to have a wrestling match, particularly if you’re a Hardy Boy these days, or the Undertaker at the most recent WrestleMania, but 99% of the time? You totally do.)

But don’t take my word for it.

Listen To Your Overpriced Marketing Textbook!

In Chapter 1 of Principles of Marketing (15th Edition Global Edition, which is what I’m working from for this project), the authors clearly state: “…selling and advertising are only the tip of the marketing iceberg.”

See? Selling and advertising are part of marketing. Although with the way the Arctic is melting, we may need a replacement for the iceberg analogy. That’s why I went with a wrestling ring.

On page 27 of our textbook for this class, Armstrong and Kottler go on to define marketing as “The process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships to capture value from customers in return.”

That, my friends, is a mouthful. And it’s kind of vague and not terribly helpful mouthful at that. What the fuck does “value” even mean anymore?

Let’s see if we can make this definition a bit more useful, shall we?

So, let’s all agree that marketing and advertising are the same things. Google, Facebook, and the marketing fraudsters may not like that, but fuck you, facts are facts and in this house, facts matter.

What then do we do with this definition of marketing? “The process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships to capture value from customers in return.”

I think where I get stuck on this definition is with the term “value.” It’s like “content.” The word has been used so much that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore.

And in this day and age, if you want people to remember what you’re saying, you need to be specific, concrete, and slightly counterintuitive.

As Chip and Dan Heath point out in “Made to Stick,” if you’re just giving people common sense advice, they’re not going to pay attention or remember it. The proof of that is how often things that should be common sense — like wearing a fucking mask in a global pandemic! — are just not done as they should be.

So if I may, I’d like to tweak the definition of marketing a bit …

Marketing is the promotion of a company’s product so that it engenders (how’s that for a $12 word?) … No. Wait. We gotta stop there.

One thing that I think needs to be said way more often than it is is that customers will never love your product or love your brand. Never.

Never ever.

You don’t love Starbucks. You like that it’s conveniently located, their stuff tastes great, and it gives you a place to hang out in with free WiFi. You also like that it has strong social proof of being a cool place go, meaning that because enough other people like, that your decision to go there will be met by their approval.

But do you LOVE Starbucks? No! You like it just enough to stick with it until something better comes along.

So, you don’t love a brand or a product. In most cases, there are always exceptions. You may love the Hitachi magic wand, and who can blame you? Men should buy those things for their partners, and women should buy it for themselves. You can thank me later if you haven’t tried one of these yet.

Let’s stop briefly so I can stress that point: Men, you need to put your fragile egos aside. Getting your partner a world-class vibrator isn’t a threat to your masculinity. Not doing so is. Getting your partner a vibrator says you care about their needs and want to make them happy. There’s nothing stronger than that!

Vibrators aside, I think we need to move past this idea of creating a relationship with the customer based on love. They don’t love you. They like you just well enough to stick around as long as the price is affordable and the product does everything it’s supposed to for them.

People will switch products, or coffee bistros, as long as your product is better, more affordable, easy to use, and even easier to explain to someone else what it does and why you need it / why it’s better.

And yes, if you can stress good branding and get some word of mouth going, all the better because that’ll give your potential customers permission to switch over to your thing even faster because the social proof will be there for them to do so too.

That’s not love though, that’s utility. And there’s no loyalty when it comes to utility.

The second something better comes along? Your customer’s “love” is going to go right out the window in favor of the thing that does everything better, cheaper, faster, and simpler than your product.*

*In most cases. There are exceptions here too. For example, I still watch WWE after all these years despite it being a mostly shit product for the better part of the early 21st Century. Great wrestling. Great performers. Terrible, terrible storytelling and baffling creative decision making.

It’s nothing personal when a customer makes a switch. It’s just that there are wants and needs, and the whole basis of marketing is to trick people into thinking a want is a need.

You need to eat, sleep, fuck, feel safe, and play. Everything else is a want.

Ah! See? That tanget was worth the trek, because now we have our definition.

A New Definition of Marketing

New definition: Marketing is the process of tricking people into thinking something they want is something they need.

Advertising, which is the same thing as marketing, remember, is part of that trickery.

Now don’t feel bad that you’re trying to trick someone.

Trick has a negative connotation. I get it. But we live in a capitalist society, and tricking people into thinking a want is a need is what keeps the economy flowing, jobs growing, and people feeling relatively safe and happy within a deeply flawed economic system.

So, for those of you who want to pursue a career in marketing, working in marketing means you’re doing your part of keeping this whole thing spinning until humanity comes to its senses and realizes that money is stupid.

The real reward, and the actual reason we’re on this planet, is to help others and ourselves become everything we can possibly be.

That’s the whole basis for the Star Trek Economy (great book BTW), and where we will eventually wind up if we don’t all kill ourselves between now and the 24th Century. Which … is entirely possible if the people not wearing masks are any indication.

The fact that the entire field is based on trickery isn’t something to get stuck on. You’re doing your part to keep the world spinning and put some money in your pocket as you do.

There’s nothing wrong with that. People need to eat. But let’s not pretend that this is some lofty career field up there with public school teachers, nurses, and artists. It’s not.

Your job is to trick people into thinking something they want is something they need, and then once you do that? Your job becomes about keeping those people around for as long as you can until something better comes along.

And something better always comes along. So you better get on that advertising component of the marketing mix, because it’s the advertising that’ll help keep people around.

B.J. Mendelson is the author of “Social Media Is Bullshit” from St. Martin’s Press.

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