“Marketing is for companies with sucky products”

Fred Wilson’s post here(http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/02/marketing.html) on marketing prompted me to give some thought to the changing nature of marketing and advertising in this interconnected world. The post started quite the firestorm and nice to see that Fred had a quick riposte to amend and further explain his position (http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/02/marketing-version-20.html). I agree with the majority of his post and parts of many of those who commented. Yet I disagree with the main premise – meant to be incendiary I’m sure – “marketing is for companies with sucky products”.

The arc of opinion on the benefits of marketing has swung predictably – driven, no doubt, by the consequences of an increasingly transparent marketplace (via social media). After all – it isn’t about one way messaging anymore. And after the enormous overvaluation and collapse of the dot com world marketing (and it’s evil twin – advertising) is especially seen as superfluous and venal – even more so in this anxious economy where expense of any kind needs to be carefully justified and framed within a larger and more moral context.

Going way back – about 100 years back – J. Walter Thompson created house ads (http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa/) that were meant to advertise their services to prospective clients. Many of them thoughtfully presented the business challenge and agency response. Here is one for Pond’s Cream – http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa.J0069/pg.1/. And here is another describing the agency process and it’s sensitivity to studying the business and the marketplace for each of their clients – http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa.J0074/pg.1/.

Yes of course, this archive reflects the time and tastes of America a hundred years ago. It is the thoughtfulness and understanding – and the earnest insistence – of business models and manufacturing strategies that really struck me. J. Walter Thompson clearly valued client engagements (as all good advertising agencies should) where they might have been able to affect and participate in the business itself. It made sense. It made for good advertising.

When I read “marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks” I hear the anger and strong reaction to the failed decades of advertising’s (and the economy which engaged it) worst years. I understand Fred’s point about creating social hooks in applications to allow for connection. Advocates are worth more than advertisements. Word of mouth is more powerful than a 30 second spot. And it makes dead sense to create products that don’t suck. It makes for good advertising.