Lee Pitts: A nation of salesmen
November 24, 2011
We may have lost our lead in the world in the ability to make things but we remain, without a doubt, the best salesmen the world has ever seen. Even in a down economy it seems we are marketing and selling stuff faster than China can make it.
If you doubt that we are the best marketeers in the world just consider these factoids: Volkswagen only sold two cars in the United States in its first year in the U.S. market but after starting a catchy advertising campaign the country was infested with Beetles; in 1998 Mr. Clean, a cartoonish advertising character was voted onto the list of the sexiest men alive; cold cereals were a huge flop when they were first introduced but they have since snap-crackle-and popped their way into an entire aisle in most grocery stores; women are convinced they need to spend billions of dollars yearly on cosmetics to make themselves look “natural”; despite popular belief, Daniel Boone did not wear a coonskin cap, but millions of kids wanted one because they saw them advertised on TV. I could go on and on like this.
As a writer I’m a great believer in advertising because without it I’d have to get a real job. It’s the advertising that makes it possible for newspapers and magazines to inform us, and to provide countless hours of enjoyment and entertainment. Without advertising there’d be no Super Bowl, no Google and no obituary when you croak.
I used to write ads and I enjoyed developing advertising campaigns because I know they work, but having said that, marketing is another matter entirely. I’m just no good at it. Especially now days when people tell me I should engage in “social marketing,” which looks a lot like a pyramid scheme on steroids to me. I don’t want to Twitter my life away or market myself to Facebook “friends” I’ve never met. I’ve even been told that I could use my “celebrity status” to pad my income like Paris Hilton does. It seems that she makes her living from appearance fees she gets by attending parties. Are you kidding? The only way anyone would pay me is if I promised NOT to come within 200 miles of their party. I’m so uncool Wrangler would pay me NOT to wear their jeans and shirts. Whereas other writers are collecting large checks on the speaking circuit I could probably be paid NOT to show up and say anything. I’m just no good at marketing myself. Perhaps because I have an inferior product to offer.
If you, like me, are a little confused as to the difference between advertising and marketing I’ll illustrate with a true story. Recently my wife saw a big ad in the local weekly newspaper for the opening of a new restaurant in a neighboring town and she pestered me until I finally broke down and took her there. It was during the restaurant’s first week in business and a good chunk of the town’s citizenry was in attendance, so obviously the advertising worked.
Advertising got us in the door but great advertising will only make your business fail faster if you offer an inferior product. Which, alas, the restaurant did. The food was inedible and the service was almost nonexistent. We had to wait 45 minutes for a table after being told it would only be 10 minutes, and the wait person had a lot of fun playing hide-and-seek with us. But we didn’t enjoy the game all that much.
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The food was so bad that even the swirling flies who were patronizing the place wouldn’t touch it and for the first, and only, time in my life I complained to the manager. As we were preparing to leave she came up to our table and gave my wife a free dessert (also inedible) and gave us a $10 off coupon to use on our next visit.
Of course, my wife insisted that we return to the restaurant that tried to kill us because we had a $10 off coupon! Are you kidding? Even if we had to pay $5,000 to have our stomachs pumped we were going to get ten whole dollars off!
That, my friends, is marketing.