It’s Time to Un-Gross Marketing

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Note from Sarah: This article was originally sent via my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers receive essay style pieces like this before anyone else. Click here to subscribe!

Did you see the kerfuffle about The North Face “hacking” Wikipedia for commercial purposes?

What they did is hire an ad agency who did photoshoots with The North Face products at famous outdoor locales and then replaced the photos for those locations’ entries on Wikipedia with their product placements because Wikipedia typically ranks #1 in both Google Image and regular search. Then they produced a video bragging about how they hacked Wikipedia to their benefit, falsely stating that they’d “collaborated” with Wikipedia on this campaign. (Check it out here.)

Needless to say, this is not in the spirit of Wikipedia, which strictly and clearly prohibits commercial use of their platform. What’s more appalling, though, is the way the companies involved handled it. As of my writing this newsletter, The North Face has apologized in the for of a milquetoast tweet reply and the ad agency effectively patted themselves on the pack for their stunt, clearly subscribing to the same philosophy as my four month old puppy that any attention is good attention,

Leo Burnett Tailor Made found a unique way to contribute photography of adventure destinations to their respective Wikipedia articles while achieving the goal of elevating those images in search rankings.

Oh boy… This pretty much exemplifies everything that’s wrong with modern online marketing, am I right? Growth hacking, win at all costs, the whole thing is straight up gross. But there is another way.

We were recently featured by Honest Marketer for transparency in discussing pricing on our website Design in a Day™ page, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. A project of FOMO, a social proof app, Honest Marketer aims bring authenticity back to marketing.

As such consumers don’t respond to ”growth hacking,” which promised fast results and delivered spam email. They (we) don’t respond to gimmicks, false urgency, or hyperbole.

It’s a really cool project, and I’d love for you to check it out, and it’s validated a lot of my gut instincts about modern trends in marketing. Which is, in large, mostly gross.

Every time I see a “Most Popular” tag in a pricing table for a brand new product, a subscription service that requires a phone call or multiple hoops to jump through to cancel, or hyperbolic copywriting claiming something is “the best,” “the easiest” or the dreaded “#1,” I pause. But over the last few years I’ve repeatedly seen messages promising explosive growth through all these techniques.

And then I’d wonder if I was wrong. Did I need to add a fake countdown timer to my website to create a sense of urgency? Or maybe a ribbon highlighting the service we offer that’s most profitable for our company as the “Most Popular!” solution? Or what about before and after promises? None of these ever felt ethical, and when it comes down to it, you’ve got to follow your gut.

I’ve been combing through our website copy and tinkering with anything that could be perceived as inauthentic, following principals adapted from Honest Marketer and my own sense of right and wrong.

As I’ve been exploring adding a low cost mini-workshop on search optimizing blog posts to our range of services (oh boy, that’s a scary thing to tackle, but let me know if you’re interested in it), much of the marketing advice I’ve been reading about this type of product—which is outside my normal wheelhouse—is pushing the usual suspects: fake countdown timers (Want to see this in action? Check out MemberPress. Their countdown for discounts always starts at 3hrs, 4min, 21sec), “limited” offer discounts, hyperbolic results claims, the works.

What it comes down to in my mind is having a north star that tells you what’s right for you, and filtering out the noise that distracts you from that. For us, the Honest Marketer is a great jumping off point, but it’s made me think about actually writing down our marketing values. Here’s my first draft:

  • No fake urgency, ever—is something is time-limited, be transparent about it.

  • If something is limited in quantity, it’s really limited.

  • We reject emotionally manipulative language that makes people feel lousy about themselves.

  • Using inclusionary language is crucial—marketing should never be alienating.

  • We won’t promise the world unless we can actually deliver it.

  • We will only recommend products and services we actually test and believe in.

These are all things we already try to do, but there’s power in actually writing it down, and being purposeful about it. In the end, I one hundred percent believe that honest, transparency and authenticity builds trust and credibility, which then builds your brand.

Disclosure: Please note that some links on this website are affiliate links, which generates a small amount of revenue to support the free content we provide.

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