Man vs. Beast: Marketing Weasels are People, Too


Before getting to the usual thoughts & chuckles, I need to offer a sincere word of thanks. First, to you, the reader, for being interested in these unpolished ideas. Your interest fueled my own.

Second, I can’t say enough about all the patient, polite, passionate, and professional people who have taken the trouble to be interviewed by me in spite of knowing that I always reserved the right to be critical of their company or product. To the web search industry execs and their public relations folks, it’s been grand and I look forward to working with you as I embark on more focused work such as the forthcoming Pay-Per-Click Advertising Buyer’s Guide.

Like most of you, I often find myself reading random commentary as I surf from site to site following topics of interest, be these grand visions of the web, or tips for webmasters. All too often (and unfortunately I have to plead guilty of my own version of this habit), writers tend to use shorthand that dismisses whole categories of people out of hand. While most of these writers – be they high-powered visionaries who publish books that people actually read, or be they open source enthusiasts posting on high profile message boards – sense that it might not be officially OK to say truly offensive things about identifiable categories of humanity, they think nothing of tossing off phrases like “marketing weasels,” “PR flacks,” etc. as a way of building a false consensus around vaguely-defined anti-materialistic values (while expecting to continue to get fed by the hand they bite, of course).

I’ll never forget the Open Directory editor who said in his public profile that his hobby was “hunting down spammers, contacting their ISP’s, and’blowing their accounts out of the sky’.” Hmm, never saw that in the dmoz editor job description. Just what we need, beret-wearing, self-righteous online

And check out these guys. A fourteen-chapter “book” about “cyberspace as commons” ends with the following profound thought:

“Most importantly, we are showing that the power of collective isn’t just a hippie fantasy: it works for business, it works for government, it works for all of us. Together, we’ve created the culture of commonspace. The thing is, if we want it to stay alive, we’re the ones who have to make it happen.

Otherwise, there are plenty of dirt-stupid marketing flacks who’ll be more than happy to swap your keyboard for a remote control with a big red ‘Buy’ button on it.”

Duh, yeah, duh, remote control Buy Stuff, duh. Hmmm. I know we dirt-stupid marketing flacks didn’t all get very far in school, but we know when you’re being mean to us. And when you’re not including *us* in “we.”

What the hell are they talking about? They might be onto something, I’m just not sure what it is. What I do know is, their use of the unimaginative insult “dirt-stupid marketing flacks” has made me a lot less likely to buy them a round of Conner’s Best Bitter next time I pop my head into one of their deep-thinking, faux-revolutionary fashion-and-dot-com-visionary-district Queen-Streety haunts.

At its worst, in the most cynical examples of this type writing, there is a strange note of suspicion of anything related to profit or money. Strange references to Gramsci, Monty Python, and the Bible creep in.

Maybe I’ve been guilty of this from time to time. We all sense when corporate power has gone too far, or when the communications of large companies have an unthinking, unseeing, inhuman feel to them. It seems only human to pass comment.

But what if the people you’re writing to don’t agree with your shorthand? What if they don’t hang out in the same wired-revolutionary-hipster-doofus coffee houses as you? Then you’re going to have to start making sense instead of just making right-sounding noises.

As someone who knew virtually nothing about advertising and marketing four years ago, I’ve learned something new every day from so-called “marketing weasels.” I’ve been called one myself. I realize now that most such comments are a product of laziness and ignorance, to say nothing of insecurity, as with any stereotype.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the impact of our criticisms of certain industry practices is diminished when we broad-brush it. If you’re going to be critical of some company or some “flack,” be as specific in your criticism as possible. I tend to believe, for example, that
is effective in its role as a clearinghouse for solid online marketing information because the principals make specific criticisms of practices that are not in the long-term best interest of any
player. In their consistent criticism of email spam (and poor industry practices that may be tantamount to spam), they provide solid information and a consistent standard to aspire to. And reasons why that standard is important to uphold. They don’t write complaints about “scumbags” and “a-holes.”
(See Of course one of the reasons they don’t use bad language is because they’ll do just about anything to avoid tripping s*a* filters. Still, it’s the thought that counts.

Taking a stand is what separates us from lobotomized idiots (whoops, there I go again.) There is nothing worse than an exchange with someone who goes to pieces because you just aren’t being agreeable enough. Eggshells must be broken along the path to omelettehood. But “taking a stand” ought to mean something more concrete than just comparing certain classes of employed people to rodents, unless you happen to have your own radio talk show.

Here’s a little exercise: look at the following two sites, and determine which one is (a) a source of practical information in an irreverent, debunking wrapper; and which one is (b) a vitriolic, cynical, self-serving cesspool? These two URL’s sound similar on the surface, but it’s plain that one guides while the other merely derides. One is a workshop, the other a train wreck. (I can feel myself learning)

http://www.f— (Is slander *really* happy and fun?)

All of that, I suppose, is by way of saying I’ve learnt (had you going there, didn’t I?), no, actually LEARNED an awful lot from the a$$holes, scumbags and rodents in the past 3.5 years of publishing this newsletter.

To my utter shock and amazement, these goons, flacks, weasels, and geeks have been consistently gracious in their interaction with this reporter. Sincere thanks. Keep up the good work!

As I happily discovered when I looked through some of the 301 instances of the phrase “marketing weasels” that come up in a Google search, the phrase has become something of a badge of honor within the marketing professions, anyway. More often than not, the references are along the lines of “I’m a marketing weasel.” Say it loud, wear it proud. You’re in good, long-tailed, furry, nocturnal, poultry-stalking company.

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