Spam is not Marketing

09/17/2009

Yesterday I attended a marketing conference and the keynote speaker was Jason Scott, the man behind the famous Twitter account @sockington.  @sockington is an account where Jason Twitters in the voice of his cat.  He has well over 1 million followers (to give you an idea that’s more than Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake or TechCrunch).  It’s an entertaining Twitter feed to follow if you are looking for a laugh and sort of has to be seen to be fully understood.

The title of his talk was “Building a Cult Brand on Twitter” which he’s certainly done.  The talk started out fine but at about the 5 minute mark Jason described how much he hates marketing.  He later qualified that statement by saying he didn’t hate all marketing, marketers and aspects of marketing, only “evil marketing, marketers and aspects of marketing.” however, it was clear that he viewed the vast majority of marketing as in the evil category.  He showed several examples of “marketing” on Twitter, all of which were basically spam.  The rest of his talk (which was pretty funny I might add) focused on demonstrating to a room full of marketers the various forms of evil marketing and imploring us to stop doing this because it’s really annoying.

I can understand why Jason thinks that marketing is the same as spam and therefore evil.   He isn’t a marketer and probably doesn’t interact with marketers on a day to day basis with the exception of Twitter spammers who are understandably driving him crazy.  He likely doesn’t know any marketers that understand segmentation and positioning and know that spam is not only “evil” but a pretty lousy way to get folks to take action.

What surprised me though was the reaction from the crowd.  A room filled with hundreds of marketers seemed to agree with him.  The Twitter stream was full of positive feedback.  Funny as he was, he was basically calling us evil spammers, and the crowd was accepting of that.  Perhaps they were all like me and held back from Twittering their disapproval because of how difficult it would be to do that in 140 characters without insulting Jason personally or the conference organizers who chose to have him speak.  Maybe folks were just happy to hear him be entertaining and basically ignored his message.  Maybe.

Here’s what I know.  Spam is what happens when there is an absence of marketing.  It’s what happens when you don’t think about what customers want and don’t care about building offerings for them.  It’s what happens when you don’t care about market segments and you believe a cat, a CEO and a teenager are equally likely to click on your link.  I’ve worked with literally hundreds of marketers in my career and not a single one of them fits Jason’s profile of what he believes marketers are.

I don’t expect Jason to understand the profession of marketing but I do expect a room full of marketers to understand it and anyone in that room that thought it was OK to characterize us the way he did should be offended and working to change that perception.  My message for Jason is this – you don’t hate marketing, you actually wish there was more of it.

Finally I want to point out to the folks looking for speakers on marketing topics that there are thousands of great marketers out there doing amazing things that I for one would love to hear and learn from.  We all like to be entertained but I’m tired of seeing celebrities and humorists being held up as authorities on marketing.

What do you think?  I know a lot of you were at the same conference I was.  Do you agree that most marketers are spammers?  Let me know in the comments.

**Update** Jason Scott responds in the comments so please read that too….

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