Marketing Dys-integration: The War of the Poses

[August 6, 2010]

By itself, the fact that the term “integrated marketing” is over 20 years old probably isn’t very important. But considering the amount and the volume of the support the idea has received over the years, I’m surprised to see it remains more of an ideal than a reality. Take, for example, two instances of dys-integration from the same marketing neighborhood.

E-trade: Baby talk or tough talk?
Coming from e-trade’s clever “Baby Talk” ad campaign, visitors to its flat, text-based Web site are in for a major letdown. While the TV spots lead one to expect a bright, engaging—even innovative—approach to investing, a visit to e-trade.com feels like business as usual.

In the first place, the “We’re No. 1” sloganeering in the marquee is extremely boorish. More importantly, the UI is so retro, I’m surprised Gordon Gekko himself doesn’t burst out of the screen and throttle me with his bare hands. Clearly the tone stuck by the TV spots is just a pose.

Motley Fool: Lone Wolf or Savvy Insider?
Motley Fool, on the other hand, presents a mirror image of this same kind of dys-integration. First, there’s the Web site. It features an upfront use of chatty video that helps bring key issues into a human context. More important, the site allows you to experience its fresh perspective at your own pace, effectively demonstrating its value instead of merely proclaiming it.

In contrast, the company’s e-mail marketing falls back on the most archaic techniques of hard-sell direct marketing. It relies on textbook “snooze-you-lose” cajoling to assert the company’s value, to pose as a purveyor of The Truth About X That Wall Street Doesn’t Want You to Know.

Messaging: What you say or what you do?
At issue here is the relationship between marketing and your product’s actual value. Define yourself too narrowly as e-trade has done and your opportunities for engagement become more limited. It’s no good trying to humanize yourself with consumers after the fact—especially if you don’t pay it off with any change in your actual service offering.

On the other hand, the people-first approach to customer retention taken by fool.com loses credibility the moment it appears to be merely another mask. At this moment, Motley Fool’s Jekyll-Hyde brand persona is helping no more than e-trade’s is, over the long term.

Real marketing integration begins with product development.
Long ago, the Avis “We try harder” campaign made magic for the simple reason that it was not merely a slogan. It was, instead, the voice of an actual effort to upgrade the company’s customer service—in fact to elevate it to the status of a product. For a brief time, customer service, not car rentals, was the Avis product and the results were self-evident.

They weren’t positioning themselves as “the car rental company you need to meet your car rental needs,” and it showed. “We try harder” worked as an integrated message because it was integrated into the brand value of the company—not because that ugly button was plastered everywhere from Pittsburgh to Petaluma. On the other hand, Motley Fool’s original embodiment of the brand with the “lone wolf” perspective, has ossified into a ritualized rant in its “don’t get left out” scary e-mails.

Symptomatic of a greater dysfunction.
To make matters worse, given what the world has learned about the American financial system since 2008, I doubt there’s anyone left who can stomach this kind of tough-talking, hip-shooting nonsense. The “urgent, act now” tone struck by the left cheek of e-trade and the right cheek of Motley Fool is, in today’s reality, offensive.

In 2010, cowboy marketing is played out. Consumers have seen what happens when they follow a dark rider into an ever-darkening sunset: They’re led to disaster, led to pointless ideological crusades serving only a tiny group of oligarchs and control freaks. In this century, we need integration, and team work to develop sustainable models for our collective future. Between sociopathic dictators and sociopathic financiers, we’ve had enough of the “lone wolf” for one space-time continuum.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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