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David Foster Wallace on Marketing

A friend of mine sent me this David Foster Wallace quote in the context of marketing:

You’ve not only got the problem of representing the truth but you also have to consider ‘What’s gonna sound true? In writing or music: what’s going to hit their nerve endings as true in 2006, or 2000 or 1995?’  It seems to me that the nervous systems that now receive all this information today are vastly more complicated, difficult, cynical, and overhyped than they used to be.  The easy example is, and one that I go over again and again with students in my writing class is: these students are far more afraid of coming off as sentimental then they are coming off as twisted, obscene, gross– things that used to be the horrible aspects you didn’t want to portray about yourself.  And it would appear that the great danger of appearing sentimental is that sentimentality is mainly now used in what would appear to be very cynical marketing and mass entertainment devices that are meant to sort of manhandle the emotions of large numbers of people who aren’t paying close attention. So that some of the most urgent themes or issues like ‘how to deal with mourning the loss of someone you love very much’ have been so adulterated by cynical commercial art that it becomes very, very, very difficult to think about how to talk about in a way that’s not more of that crap.
David Foster Wallace

I replied with:

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.
“It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”, Bob Dylan

and added in:

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are truly human with some trivial  lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.
The Cluetrain Manifesto

At the core of all three quotes is the changing role of what a marketer is: Someone who builds a community.

I am always thinking of a David Mamet quote about the responsibility of being a playwright.

I may not have it word-by-word correct but the essence is “Never assume that your audience, collectively, isn’t smarter than you are.”

The same is true for marketing.  Too often it becomes about a catchy sales phrase as opposed to authentic communication.  More and more consumers aren’t trusting the materials a company produces. Instead they rely on the voice of the community at large.   It’s too easy to type something into Google and find reviews.  We want people who are paying attention because they will become the customers that speak on our behalf.

When marketers are the consumers, we do the research online.  We use Google.  We need to respect our customers by expecting them to do it as well.

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