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THE DEBRIS OF MARKETING PREFIXES

What do we need to unlearn to make advertising work better? PointNine Lintas’ Vikas Mehta believes meaningless prefixes should be first against the wall


On October 14th 2012, a man named Felix Baumgartner jumped into a free fall from the steps of a capsule, standing on the edge of space (approx. 39 kilometres altitude). In the next few minutes, he broke the sound barrier along with three other world records. With over 9.5 million people watching the stream live, it was the most concurrent views ever for an event on YouTube.

An estimated 80 TV stations in 50 countries and 280 digital outlets covered the jump. Add to this, millions of conversations on social platforms and coverage in print. According to one media report, the stunt generated global media value in the “tens of millions” for Red Bull. An awe-inspiring initiative from a brand famous for breaking new ground, Red Bull Stratos remains one of the most iconic brand initiatives of our time, even after half a decade.

Let’s re-look at this now, from the lens of marketing expertise. Most marketing practitioners are often tempted to catalogue and classify marketing initiatives. From marketing reviews to agency showcases and industry award shows, we create categories to demarcate pockets of expertise. Let’s try and classify Red Bull Stratos. Was it experiential marketing, giving the audiences the promise of a unique spectacle and experience a making-of history? Was it content marketing: since there were numerous pieces of content around a central pillar (in this case the jump) to engage, inform and excite the audiences? Was it viral marketing? Millions of people saw and spread this content organically. Was it social media marketing? After all, it generated millions of conversations on social media globally. Was it influencer marketing: hundreds of influencers spoke about it across touchpoints pre, during and post the event. Was it digital marketing: all the content, conversations and communities that came around Felix Baumgartner and his cause used digital and mobile platforms.

Was it none of these? Or all of them? Does it really matter? Our obsession to classify the marketing disciplines fails rather quickly when talking of examples we admire most, Red Bull Stratos included. (Think Elon Musk launching a Tesla Roadster into space, or a small brand of green tea from India, sending a shipment to Trump).

What such campaigns do is highlight one of the fundamental shortcomings in today’s marketing vocabulary — the excess of prefixes, and their occasional collective failure to describe some of the best marketing successes. As the marketing domain evolves, we often find ourselves dealing with new concepts and knowledge. To recognise a new skill set often calls for giving it a new label, under which the discipline can thrive and create deep-domain expertise with focus. As practitioners, we should be grateful that someone coined the term ‘digital marketing’ a couple of decades ago, otherwise we may be sitting in an era of digital transformation with no digital marketing experts.

The problem starts when we get reckless about creating new labels and get obsessed with labelling every initiative. Today, the marketing vocabulary is stuffed with, what I call The Prefix Debris. It seems like a simple formula where you add a new prefix to marketing and instantly, a new(ish looking) marketing discipline is born. We’ve added prefixes like integrated, consumer, customer, referral, sponsorship, digital, interactive, strategic, mobile, search engine, social media and too many more. There’s almost an arms race amongst agencies and marketers today, to gather as many of these as there are specialist functions and offerings. Most of us are guilty of having seen, heard, ignored or practiced an excess of these at different points of time.

While there’s nothing wrong with the labels in themselves, our collective obsession to slot everything elegantly under one, often distracts us from the bigger picture of what a marketing initiative is meant to do. To create a memorable impression in the users’ minds and hearts about the brand. We sometimes forget that these divisions should remain subsets of marketing and not become a superset in themselves.

Adding prefixes splinters the marketing program, instead of making it cohesive. It fragments the user/ customer experience into silos instead of making it seamless. It creates federations of marketing and agency teams, making collaborations harder. It puts the spotlight on the marketing disciplines instead of the consumer journey. Since vocabulary shapes mindsets, and mindsets shape actions; unlearning a bit of this prefix-obsession might help making marketing seamless. It helps sometimes to think of the marketing leader as a chef and every marketing program/campaign as a dish she’d serve her guests (consumers). Every subdiscipline of marketing is a potential ingredient to a great recipe, but not a substitute for it. It’ll go a long way in helping brands create seamless experiences, more consistently.

This article was originally published on ETBrandEquity.