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Let’s Stop Beatin’ ‘Round the Bush

Did you happen to catch the Dilbert series from September 13-18, 2007?

If you did, and you have the responsibility for bringing together products and services with customers, how did those five comic strips make you feel? The first of the series is reproduced below -- what is your reaction now?

My initial reaction was to laugh, then groan.

Scott Adams always evokes a chuckle because of his scary but realistic view of corporate life. It also reminded me of Seth Godin's entertaining 2005 blog, and his book that spawned it, All Marketers Are Liars.

In the same breath, I voice a deep groan. Why? Because yet again, the marketing function is positioned as fraud or creative public deception. That is -- lying.

Illustration: Dilbert Cartoon

DILBERT: © Scott Adams/Dist. by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

At times I’ve asked myself, “Why would anyone willingly choose to be associated with a profession that has become synonymous with deception?” I hear particularly horrifying stories and think, “I don’t do that” or “I would never do that!”

But do I? Am I actually making a difference? Instead of complaining about the unfairness of labeling all marketing as fraud -- or resigning myself to believe that all’s fair when it comes to making money and winning in a competitive marketplace -- I wonder...

When does a lie start?

First of all, regardless of what the pointy-haired manager asserts, “marketing” does not tell lies. People tell lies. Whether it’s one person in contemplation with one’s self, two people in negotiation, or an entire company in communication with a multi-billion-dollar market -- it’s all a conversation.

So I ask myself ...

  • At what point in any conversation does a lie start?
  • How many times on a daily basis do I potentially begin a lie?
  • Does a lie start if I promote without validation, mislead by harboring a silently-held belief, or by staying quiet when I should be speaking up?

After continuing to ask myself this series of questions, it all boiled down to this: Lies begin in the relationship and conversations I have with myself, followed by those I have with others.

Who are we?

In any situation, let’s start with who we are in the matter. In our careers and personal lives, we all have reasons for why we do things. We work hard to define our goals, and we set objectives and milestones to help us achieve them. But unless we’re window mannequins or Buddhist monks, we’ll need to enroll and build relationships with other people to get things done. We can build effective relationships with people if we can find common ground around our goals. The deeper our relationships are, the richer our lives and the greater the accomplishments.

James Nolan, CEO for Sara Lee Foodservice, illustrates these points in an interview with Amy Zipkin for the weekly New York Times column, The Boss. He tells a wonderful story about how through his life he learned to set goals and the importance of shared outcomes by all participants. After one particular celebratory outing with a client, he reflects, “He taught me an important lesson: Let the client know who you are and what you stand for.”

If we don’t know clearly who we are in our own 1-to-1 relationship, it is likely that we will not build the kind of relationships we truly want and need with others. Even then, it doesn’t mean that we will always consistently live up to what we stand for. So we must build in the ability to acknowledge and ask forgiveness – for ourselves and for others.

I find that if we develop the platform that includes who we are, what we stand for, the ability to acknowledge and forgive, we are on our way to achieving great goals and building great relationships. But this criterion alone does not ensure that we will sustain trust between us and others.

Open conversations build trust, subvert lies

Along with communicating personal and common goals, we must also address our fears openly and work to neutralize the “You vs. Me” mentality that inevitably shows up when things get difficult.

A great example that illustrates a lack of open conversation is captured in a recent article by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post:

Greenspan: Ouster of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil." Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, "I talked to everybody about that."

Greenspan said he had backed Hussein's ouster, either through war or covert action. "I wasn't arguing for war per se," he said. But "to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B" -- an alternative to war.

--Bob Woodward, Washington Post, September 17, 2007 [emphasis added]

Without going into the issue of the belated timing of Greenspan's comments, if you have a strong reaction to such statements, perhaps it is because you are someone who has a stake in this matter and who recognizes that we have fears and questions that have not been openly addressed. If people would honestly state what they stand for, live up to it, openly speak of fears, and take their egos out of the discussion, we might have all had conversations leading to different outcomes long before now.

How does this all relate to marketing and fraud, you ask? Consider the following articles:

War Is Sell

From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told the New York Times in September. Card was explaining what the Times characterized as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein...

The techniques being used to sell a war in Iraq are familiar PR strategies. The message is developed to resonate with the targeted audiences through the use of focus groups and other types of market research and media monitoring. The delivery of the message is tightly controlled. Relevant information flows to the media and the public through a limited number of well-trained messengers, including seemingly independent third parties.

… According to the New York Times, intensive planning for the " Iraq rollout" began in July. Bush advisers checked the Congressional calendar for the best time to launch a "full-scale lobbying campaign." The effort started the day after Labor Day as Congress reconvened and Congressional leaders received invitations to the White House and the Pentagon for Iraq briefings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA director George Tenet. White House communications aides scouted locations for the President's September 11 address, which served as a prelude to his militaristic speech to the United Nations Security Council.

The Washington Post reported in July that the White House had created an Office of Global Communications (OGC) to "coordinate the administration's foreign policy message and supervise America 's image abroad." In September, the Times of London reported that the OGC would spend $200 million for a "PR blitz against Saddam Hussein" aimed "at American and foreign audiences, particularly in Arab nations skeptical of US policy in the region." The campaign would use "advertising techniques to persuade crucial target groups that the Iraqi leader must be ousted.

--Laura Miller, PRWatch Newsletter, Vol. 9, No. 4, Fourth Quarter 2002 [emphasis added]

Selling the War Without Lying

... So the fear campaign out of the White House turned out to be just a marketing technique, a device used to sell a war that might not otherwise be tolerated by the American public. Richard Perle, a White House insider, has said as much. Bush himself has now admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, though he still uses those attacks to sell other unrelated policies.

What I'm wondering, through all this, is how Bush might have sold the war in Iraq if he had stuck with the truth.

--Harley Sorensen, San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 2004 [emphasis added]

I’m not pointing to any one individual. In fact, I’m addressing myself as much as any of us as individuals, marketers, and citizens. Let’s ask of ourselves:

  • What do I stand for?
  • Who am I in the matter?
  • What are the common interests?
  • Do I have the courage to face my fears and ask the right questions?
  • How can I neutralize the ‘You vs. Me’ mentality in any crisis?
  • Then -- what actions will I take as a result?

Let's get it on

As I was writing my thoughts and wondering,

  • Why do we hold back our feelings and fears from ourselves and others?
  • Why is it so hard to get to the point?

...I just happened to hear a song that captured the essence of the moment. The late, great, Marvin Gaye prophetically said it all in the most successful Motown single ever, Let's Get It On:

THE Marvin Gaye 1970's MySpace Page (Wait 30 seconds for the player to download.)

Let's Get It On

I've been really tryin', baby
Tryin' to hold back this feeling for so long
And if you feel like I feel, baby
Then, c'mon, oh, c'mon

Let's get it on
Ah, baby, let's get it on
Let's love, baby
Let's get it on, sugar
Let's get it on

We're all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we've to got be
Let's live
I love you

There's nothing wrong with me
Loving you, baby no no
And giving yourself to me can never be wrong
If the love is true

Don't you know how sweet and wonderful life can be
I'm asking you baby to get it on with me
I ain't gonna worry
I ain't gonna push, won't push you baby
So c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, baby
Stop beatin' 'round the bush

Let's get it on …

--Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, 1973

beat around the bush, verb. Be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information

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    Marketing for a sustainable future - Blog - Let’s Stop Beatin’ ‘Round the

Reader Comments (6)

I have a Qlippit on this subject, but my dog ate it, along with the rest of my homework, so here is a text reply.

Lying has huge positive marginal utility among strangers. Hence, at a crossroads, traders will tell travelers whatever they want to hear in order to make the sale.

Lying has significant negative absolute utility among villagers. Gossip amplifies the potential for future deception and brands the liar, who, in the village, has nowhere else to turn. So even a lie that works almost always fails to deliver the goods.

Marvin Gaye, lying like crazy in "Let's Get It On" (really - "we're all sensitive people" - well, I suppose some parts are more sensitive than others...) shows us the assymetry between the relationship of a male to his sperm (trading at the crossroads) and the relationship of a female to her entire body (it's a village in there!)

Like Marvin, the marketer-as-trader lies to make the sale, knowing that he won't be around to deal with the consequences. If he had no place to slink off to, he would sing a different tune, or at least different lyrics. And so would our deceptive marketers.

So the real question is - are markets going to evolve to be more like a crossroads or a village? For blogs, we are seeing this play out before our eyes, as the gossip mechanisms - Digg, Technorati, StumbleUpon and the like - engage in a war of trust with marginal click, ratings, and review fraud.

True - each of us can decide that we are in a village even when we find ourselves at a crossroads. It's how I do it, possibly out of arrogance, and partially out of laziness. But the question of whether marketing itself will become more or less deceptive has little to do with the beliefs, ethics, or even personalities of marketers, and very much to do with whether the markets themselves are sufficiently coherent over time to make lying unprofitable, with gossip as the great enforcer.

Occasionally I talk about stuff like this in my blog, Qlippin Along. Or I could just be saying that to get you to check it out...

Sep 26, 2007 at 10:08PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Beall

It looks like my dog barfed up my homework - er, I mean my Qlippit. So here it is...

The Lying Ratchet - at the Crossroads

Sep 26, 2007 at 10:54PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Beall

Thanks for sharing, Chris. I agree - as individuals, we do seem to think more about our actions when we know we'll be around to be accountable for them.

As the world gets smaller in terms of communications, there will be fewer places to slink off to ;-)

I look for what sustains and is sustainable because I find that is what makes most sense economically, socially, and competitively in the long run.

Someone said to me recently, "We get the organizations and results that we deserve." That is, if we are merely traders or liars to simply survive, we shouldn't be surprised to see what we end up producing and attracting.

The awesome thing is that we can change everything by design -- we can choose to lead and evolve!

Sep 30, 2007 at 03:12PM | Unregistered CommenterCynthia Holladay

The key line for me in this blog is

"Even then, it doesn’t mean that we will always consistently live up to what we stand for. So we must build in the ability to acknowledge and ask forgiveness – for ourselves and for others."

The core essence here isn't simply the personal values we associate with as a society but the risks we take at an individual level to become better people and the word "better" here is about humility rather than as a judgment. The meme of society has become a focus on who is lying or who is doing wrong, rather than who is doing the right thing. The most important attitude about marketing isn't that people lie but the vast majority of people base their opinions on stereotypes and positioning. Positioning emanates from marketers not people.

So what should marketers stand for? Marketers should stand for the truth. In 1999 I joined a group of rebellious people who wanted to shake the world of marketing. The manifesto I signed back then was called "The Cluetrain Manifesto".

Getting on Board the Cluetrain Manifesto

Christopher Locke is a very forthright individual who isn't at all afraid of saying exactly what he means. Through my resulting correspondence with him over the years, I realized that rebelliousness is simply not enough, rebellion is only a changepoint when the market makes it so but the market is only rebellious when idealism meets transformation, otherwise it is very much in the vein of "Wisdom of the Crowds", a pragmatic mass of people who place their trust in the mainstream voice.

It is the market that believes the "All Marketers are Liars" and it is the market which is a mirror reflection of the positioning that marketing utilizes. Seth Godin's title therefore represents the dilemma of how consumers, clients and customers view marketing - not simply how professionals view marketing. The new P's of marketing therefore seem to be positioning, privacy, personalization and partnership, not simply the traditional 4P's.

The overall impulse is to continue the language of wanting to transform marketing or change how marketing is viewed. So it is not about marketing and it also isn't about people, it is simply and solely about truth. The only truth we can fundamentally ascertain is the one we explore on our own. One writer who absolutely confronts truth as a factual reality is Jiddu Krishnamurti. Evidence based thinking is also beginning to find streams of consciousness in books such as Bob Sutton's "Dangerous Half Truths & Total Nonsense". This personal appreciation of truth is not about reaching shared agreements, but about holding a mirror not as marketers, or as a society but the inverse of one-to-one marketing, as one-to-one consumers.

Such truth seeking is not the domain of the feint hearted, but a personal examination without the hope or belief that others are going to undertake the same thing. What others do is their given and personal responsibility. The discipline required to lead a good life, to create a great home, to be a part of an intelligent village is within our own individual shoes. The rest of such discussions simply add to the meme's of society. That is why Jon Stewart and Colbert are becoming indistinguishable between comedy and the media which serves as a view of truth. Krishnamurti called that media view of truth an image. Described relationships between people as images and therefore not a relationship.

We will be well served to turn the tap of projecting off so that what is abundantly clear is that we stand for truth no matter if its personal or professional but not for the memes projected that become the anecdotes and stories that become a forum of agreements and disagreements rather than a decision of personal transformation. It is easier to talk about lies then it is to live in truth and that is why the key line of this blog for me is about forgiveness. Such forgiveness starts from within, for the greatest source of human connection is our own heart. When marketers see life as a biological reality, where we confront not only the very environment that Jiddu Krishnamurti addresses, but the relationship of waste and even relationships to toxins, as a natural part of the biology we call life.

What is projected therefore good or bad are messages, the very messages Marshall McLuhan addressed in Understanding Media, and in so understanding media, understanding how we must adjust as an individual medium. All of this can become very complicated, and I am after all a simple soul, the same simple soul who signed the Cluetrain Manifesto nearly a decade ago, but truth itself is for me very direct and very simple, but it is a simplicity that at a personal level which is the most difficult to confront or face upto. It is therefore not about ego, not about marketing, not about social relationships but simply knowing truth as a fact - and that requires us at an individual level to go far deeper than all of us are accustomed to, in a world whose principle deficit is attention.

We therefore shouldn't be trying to make a difference, but simply live a life worth living and in doing such a simple thing as living a life worth living, then we become irrevocably different. Marketing therefore does not have to compared with truth, it is intelligence which needs to be compared with knowledge.

Manjit Syven Birk

Oct 9, 2007 at 12:19PM | Unregistered CommenterManjit Syven Birk


Here is the link to Jiddu Krishnamurti's talk entitled:

Truth is a Pathless Land

I have not discovered a better way to describe Truth then he did in this talk.


Oct 10, 2007 at 01:04PM | Unregistered CommenterManjit Syven Birk

Apologies that the above link did not work

URL is


Thanks! I have fixed it. --Cynthia

Oct 10, 2007 at 01:05PM | Unregistered CommenterManjit Syven Birk

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