the new marketing rules: resistance is futile


I went along to a lecture by Clay Shirky at the ICA this week and as ever, he was interesting, lively and provided plenty of food for thought.  I have been meaning to blog mine all week and am eventually getting there but man, 140 characters have a lot to answer for!

Clay spoke about social marketing in the context of a third sector. Whereby traditionally drivers for changing behaviours have fitted into two categories:

  1. Making wonga and realising commercial benefit (private sector)
  2. Making the world better or benefiting a society or community group/project (public sector)

Then along came the social third sector. Many examples of which fit into neither traditional sector. They are just fun. Or whacky. Or interesting. Or disruptive. But mainly they are fun.  Of the case studies Clay discussed, no pants day is a good example of the power of group action but also the success of something just silly, funny and seemingly futile.

So I was playing around with the idea of marketing without expectation or without commercial objectives and spotted this article from Hugh McLeod in my reader. He has registered the website – a strange choice for most marketers who spend most of their working lives dreading their campaigns will be futile – but as Hugh explains, maybe futility isn’t such a bad thing.….as a starting point at any rate.

I just bought the URL,

I’m not planning on turning it into another website, nor am I planning to launch a new business called “Futile Marketing”. It’s just a name I very much wanted to own.

Why? Because “Futility”, as a marketing strategy, is an idea that’s currently fascinating me.

Conventional Wisdom dictates, if you’re trying to market something, the last thing you want your marketing campaign to be is “An Act of Futility”.

But… are you REALLY sure about that?

I was thinking recently how most of the stuff I’m most proud of, started off as acts of futility.

-Drawing cartoons on the back of business cards started off as an act of futility.
-Getting an English tailor to blog in the hope of selling more $5,000 suits started off as an act of futility.
-Launching a national UK supermarket wine via the blogosphere started off as an act of futility.
-Getting Microsoft to re-think about who they are using nothing but a single cartoon started off as an act of futility.
-Choosing a highly irritating puppet to launch a major new French wine started off as an act of futility.
-Convincing one of the most respected publishers in the world to turn a blog post into a hardcover book started off as an act of futility.
-Getting West Texas cowboys to start drinking South African wine started off as an act of futility.

And if you think about it, the world is full of other, similar examples.

-Getting people to pay $4 for a cup of coffee started off as an act of futility.
-Getting people to give up their horses en masse in exchange for an internal combustion engine started off as an act of futility.
-Getting people to pay for software without any hardware attached to it started off as an act of futility.
-Building a multi-million dollar cottage industry using nothing but blog advertising started off as an act of futility.
-Writing a children’s book about wizards in an Edinburgh coffee shop started off as an act of futility.
-Trying to halt the Nazi invasion using nothing but Spitfires started off as an act of futility.
-Stopping the largest army the world had ever seen with just a small phalanx of 300 Spartans started off as an act of futility.
-Trying to blow up the Death Star using nothing but thirty X-Wing fighters started off as an act of futility.
-Convincing the USA to elect an African-American as their President started off as an act of futility.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking…?

But how then do you convince other people, in my line of work namely clients, to take a punt. Be brave. Try something new. Expect little and see where an idea takes you. And in Hugh’s words…do something futile and see where it goes?

That is the power of credibility and where the personal brand comes in (I hate this term btw).  If you’ve got a history of being brave, trying something different, untested and turning seemingly futile marketing campaigns into successful projects then the trust will surely follow.

As Clay Shirky discussed last week, it is well known that many of the most successful projects in history started out with the founder having no clue about how revolutionary their idea or product would be…humble beginnings but hugely successful projects.

In my experience, people hire and partner with people that have a history in one or two areas.  Have we entered the age where creativity and humility will go hand in hand as the most sought after skills for marketeers?  Where people’s track record will be judged by how wide their experience is and how willing they are to take a risk and do something that appeals to the frivolous streak in us all rather than their ability to follow a formula that no longer works under today’s marketing rules? I  sincerely hope so…

Courtesy of Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid)

Courtesy of Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.