Bad Marketing Is Destroying Society. A True Story


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I always look forward to the Saturday mail. It usually contains my weekly edition of The Economist, which means that I can look forward to stimulating the grey matter over an extended breakfast. Occasionally, the post brings a suprise. Saturday’s post was no exception, as it contained a boxed childrens game published in collaboration with a German TV channel. The only trouble was, the game was addressed to someone else in a neighbouring street and had been put into my postbox by mistake.

Later that day, I took the game with me to the house of the rightful owner, assuming that they must be missing it. I rang the doorbell and a middle aged-woman appeared and seeing the box, immediately exploded into an aggresive outburst that she didn’t want to order anything. I said that I was a neighbour and that it was her mail that was wrongly delivered to my home by mistake. But she wasn’t listening, just repeated her tirade and slammed the door shut in my face. Somewhat taken aback by the woman’s rude behaviour, I put the rejected game on her doormat, rang the doobell again and left the game to its fate.

Despite only living one street away, I didn’t know the woman. She only reacted aggresively when she saw the box in my hand and then behaved as though she was convinced I was some tacky door-to-door saleman trying to sell her something she didn’t want. She didn’t even listen when I tried to tell her it was her wrongly delivered mail.

The big question is, why should someone behave so rudely to a stranger who was trying to help them?

But then I got to thinking about the other unwelcome suprises in the Saturday post. To the begging letters from charities wanting my money for what they think are good causes. To the kitchy miniatures, limited-edition coins and commemorative plates offered by companies like the Franklin Mint. To the unbelievable offers for two free mobile phones plus a free computer from mobile telecoms resellers. To the flood of unadulterated junk that so-called marketers ram through our letter boxes as though we are faintly interested in their wares. And to the recent rise in the numbers of slippery, high-pressure, door-to-door salesmen who want to sell you mobile phone contracts, broadband internet, home insurance and any manner of rubbish, but only if you sign there and then on the dotted-line.

Maybe I was too harsh in judging the woman. To a professional marketer like myself, the junk, tricks and outright lies that so many marketers employ to shove their message into the unsuspecting public’s face is part of marketing’s daily business, but to any normal person it is probably more than they can cope with. Aggresive marketers have created the tragedy of the marketing commons. They are destroying the very civil society upon which all of marketing ultimately relies.

If you are a marketer and planning another campaign with a breakeven point depending upon a 0.1% response rate, stop and think for a minute. Isn’t it time that you reclaimed the business high ground by improving your product so that only a fool would buy a competitor’s. Isn’t it time you improved your marketing so that customers look forward to receiving your communications. Isn’t it time that you started to market to others as you would prefer to be marketed to yourself. Don’t hide behind the lowest common denominator free speech defense. Stand tall and market like Levitt, Kotler and Ogilvy showed you how.

What do you think? Do you regularly want to punch a marketer on the nose in response to their in-your-face methods? Or don’t you know any marketers?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. I think you’ve nailed it, Graham: market unto others as they would market unto you. The first step in engaging someone is to show them respect and courtesy, and it seems a lot of marketing efforts flat out ignore that. Instead, they come across as insincere, pushy and conniving. Who would want to engage in a buyer-seller relationship when that’s the impression an entity gives a customer?

    The opportunity that exists is for smart marketers to recognize the tenor of today’s marketing and realize that marketing on a more pleasant level has twice the impact it did simply because of the contrast that approach has with the rest of the marketing din that’s out there. Tone down the selling and turn up the conversation – I suspect that form of marketing would actually work.

  2. Actually there are and always will be rather ignorant, rude people in any era; in any part of the world. She could have said that she didn’t order anything, and then waited for you to justify yourself, but instead she assumed a self-righteous misplaced fury at marketers in general.

    It’s probably because of the proliferation of fairly unintelligent people like this that marketers don’t up their gambit–they would most likely be received the same way by the majority of people.


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