Don Marti

Tue 13 Sep 2005 08:58:16 PM PDT

Is Marketing Sleazy?

Bob Bly asks, Is Marketing Sleazy?

Not necessarily, but when mass media grows faster and cheaper than reputation systems, sleazy isn't adequately selected against. The tide is turning against sleazy, though.

  1. Craft marketing (Middle Ages - 1920s) Manufacturing and information technology are both very expensive. Products are made and sold largely on a one-to-one basis. Reputation systems work, because they're in people's heads.

  2. Mass marketing (1920s - 1970s) Price of manufacturing drops only for large quantities of identical goods. Information technology is very expensive, too expensive for merchant to track individual customers. Surveys. Sales reports. Advertising. Reputation systems have to use mass media tools and organizational structures themselves to reach people -- Consumers Union founded 1936.

  3. Database marketing (1980s - 1990s) Price of manufacturing drops further; mass customization possible. Information technology prices fall to the point where it is cost-effective for merchants to track individual customers. Catalogs. Direct mail. Telemarketing. Individualized magazine advertisements. Reputation systems clobbered by overwhelming product diversity and micro-targeting.

  4. Reputation marketing (2000 - ?) Information technology prices fall enough for customers to establish their own systems for comparing merchants. Web discussion systems. Micro product review sites and independent purchase preference correlation search engines. Amazon's business model: product recommendations. Sleazy marketers beware: your prospect's next Google search will find the blog of the last person you burned, or even a dedicated debunking site.

I saw this happen last weekend. Someone watched an infomercial for the Landrider bicycle, and was practically sold—until doing a Google search and finding some comments on bike forums.

So, Bob, it's not whether or not marketing is sleazy. It's that different combinations of media costs and available technology give different balances of power between the sleazy marketer and the "mark".