Dear marketers: stop shouting at us

A couple of years ago, I co-created a marketing campaign for AccountantsWorld, which intended to spark debate (and hopefully some support) around the idea that our ginormous competitor was a negative force for professional accountants. Here’s an image from that campaign:

Did QuickBooks Break Client Accounting?
All of our ads led to a landing page where we presented – at least somewhat objectively – both points of view about QuickBooks, and gave accountants a chance to vote. We promoted this campaign through print, online marketing, social media, and email. And the results were phenomenal. Over 5,000 accountants voted, and 65% of them agreed with our position (yes, I recognize there was some self-selection there). The best part was, over 750 accountants took the time to actually write in optional comments on why they passionately agreed – or disagreed – with our position. We’d just identified some of the most vocal, thoughtful accountants out there – which means we had identified some of the best and worst candidates for AccountantsWorld’s products.

This is all background to tell you: I have nothing against bold, declarative marketing. I love it, when it’s done well. It can help you differentiate your brand in a crowded marketplace, and can be especially effective if you’re the (relatively) little guy competing against a Goliath. (Witness the early campaigns of Under Armour and Mini Cooper.) But you have to actually take a position that pushes the conversation forward.

Some marketers – particularly on social media – love to provoke a response via their headline, but it’s clear the only conversation they care about is the click. Some examples:

Stop Zuckerberg from Stealing Your Fans!
What if the Fukushima disaster happened again… in your city?

I’ve removed the links, because the last thing I want to do is give these trolls free advertising (and an inadvertent nudge in their search rankings). Sure, these sorts of messages can get people to click, but they’re “saccharine clicks” – they rarely lead to engagement, conversation or action. They’re distracting and time-consuming for the reader, and they’re only superficially positive for the advertiser. In the long term, they diminish credibility – both for the specific message and (I don’t think I’m being too dramatic here) for marketing as a whole.

Shouldn’t the point of marketing be to take a position, educate the right audience on that position, and help draw a link between what customers believe and what you have to offer? How does this sort of digital shouting help do that?

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