Sloppy thinking – a rant

3 min read. 22 February 2024

Without the help of Google, I have self-diagnosed a serious condition I describe as “simplicity fatigue”. More accurately perhaps, it could be described as the utter exhaustion caused by a phobia of lazy thinking. I suffer daily when I open links to the marketing and advertising press websites only to find lazy, binary and often massively unhelpful thinking, most of which cannot agree with itself.

Some recent examples: 

  • “TV is dead” – “TV is NOT dead” 
  • “Procurement is rubbish” – “Procurement is brilliant” 
  • “In-housing is terrible” – “In-housing is great” 
  • “Digital display doesn’t work” – “Digital display is brilliant” 

And my all-time favourite for its fundamental naivety being proportionate to its coverage:

The Agency model is dead – “OOOOhhh no it ISN’T” – “OOOOhhh yes it IS”. (And don’t even get me started on the idea of “best practice”.)

As HL Mencken put it:

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about simplicity of communication. I am a great advocate of that. But when it comes to the issues affecting howthe marketing and advertising businesses work, all the rigour and soul searching that goes into brand and comms planning seems to vanish in a puff of pure laziness. 

Of course TV isn’t dead, only those who wish it so might suggest that it is. Some procurement is rubbish, some are really good at what they do – much like advertising people for that matter. There is a role for in-housing, depending upon the nature of the business problem you need to solve, for some it would work for others it would be a disaster. And digital display … well, hmmm, maybe not be a good example.

In a world that seems to be increasing grey scale rather than black and white, when we advertising and marketing people cast our pearls, we would do well to make sure they are actually pearls and not the ignorance of swine.

Every problem requires a different solution in the world of marketing and agencies. Case studies are useful because some problems are like others, but they’re not the same. They can’t be. It’s always going to be a different brand at a different time with different competitors and different investment levels and different market share and different risk strategies. 

Much of the binary proclamations are driven, I believe, by marketing and advertising press content being provided by authors who are actually thinly disguised hammers looking for their nails. But their articles and ideas are published as if independent and disinterested, or many at least are taken that way.

Marketers and agencies have only one thing in common: the best possible solution to the marketer’s business problem. Everything else is either a direct or indirect means of achieving that goal or a distraction from it. So the definition of the marketer’s problem is the start point for everything. 

Depending on the problem the brand needs to solve, some agency models will be dead and some very much alive, in-housing could be a silver bullet or a shot in the foot, procurement could seize victory from the jaws of disaster or vice versa. And digital display … well, I’ve made my point.

So here is my plea: if you have a story to tell about how you do this or do that, explain when your idea doesn’t work as much as when it does. Think hard about how it solved a specific business problem and how it might have had to be different for a different kind of problem. Don’t encourage others to leap to the wrong conclusions.

To use a phrase coined by Blair Enns : 

“We must diagnose before we prescribe”.

David Meikle

Author – How to Buy a Gorilla.

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