Anyone notice that there is a new marketing expert in our midst? It's called the government and the related public opinions around where the stimulus funds should go and how that money should be spent. I'm not going to belabor the slippery slope we're traveling down here but it does warrant a conversation about who's now running marketing.
Just this week, we saw four examples of what the bailout 'golden handcuffs' look like:
- Citigroup paid $400m for the naming rights to the new Mets stadium. The decision was a coupe for all parties involved when they won the rights but now not so much for anyone. This week, several US congressman are suggesting they sell these rights.
Bank of America takes heat for sponsoring a $45m Super Bowl party for it's customers. While this has been a tradition for the company every year, the fact they just received bailout money draws into question whether or not they used public funds frivolously.
Wells Fargo cancels partners club in Vegas. Many companies offer incentive trips and yearly business outings at resorts for top performing sales reps, partners or agents. Wells Fargo's 4 day junket was business as usual until it met a public outcry against it.
Executive pay limits imposed by Obama administration. $18 billion in bonuses paid out to top executives in 2008 was a bit too much for the administration to bear given the need for a bailout to avoid bankruptcy. Now the maximum is $500,000 a year.
The merits of each of these initiatives run the full gambit from debatable to stupid. There is so much tuned out behavior going on here that we've lost track. That's not really the point though.
What's important is that it surfaces an interesting perspective that I've always wanted to talk about with regards to marketing. One of the reasons that marketing isn't trusted (and there are at least five others) is that it's motives are not pure. Far too often, we spend money on things that fall into this general category of 'awareness of the brand'. Hard to argue with the need but it creates an opening for programs that are ego-driven, notoriety-driven, personal fulfillment-driven, and creativity-driven.
Whatever happened to being market-driven?
I'd be truly concerned if I was a marketing executive on the back-end of a bail-out. Marketing strategies just got a whole new controlling interest group dictating the wisdom of any investment that doesn't contribute immediately to the bottom-line. This is in many ways even worse than the typical public company scrutiny. And it's liable to create the kind of self-fulfilling failure outcomes because of it. When cost is your only governor, revenues tend to follow them down.
But, in truth this problem is of our own making. If our motives were pure from the start, there would never be the kind of programs in the public eye that everyone can point to as a non-essential waste of money. There are so many disciplines that are undergoing a transformation right now. This smells like the beginning of marketing's. And it starts with realizing that our motives need to be more authentic.