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Bad Men and Stranger Things: the best of the marketing industry in 2017


By Samuel Scott, The Promotion Fix columnist

November 27, 2017 | 10 min read

Over this past year, I have written The Promotion Fix column for The Drum with the mindset of the critical journalist who discusses the marketing world and speaks about the industry at events. It has led to a published piece in Digiday calling me a ‘noted contrarian’ and others accusing me of being negative and combative.

stranger things

I plead guilty.

Before I worked in marketing and then became a writer and speaker on marketing, I was a journalist and newspaper editor in the US who covered politics, business, and urban development. And it is not the job of reporters to make friends.

Journalists are first and foremost supposed to provide fair and neutral coverage. Then, when warranted, they are supposed to serve as a check on those in power, to call them out when they are full of crap, and to hold their feet to the proverbial fire.

As a columnist, I have the luxury of being opinionated as well. In my columns this year, I have challenged the myths that TV and radio are dead, discussed the fraud in the online advertising world, criticized the ideas of so-called ‘content marketing’ and ‘social media marketing,’ pointed out the biggest lies in digital marketing, predicted a GDPR-inspired decline of martech and adtech, and called on the tech world to stop funding Breitbart News.

Yes, I have been negative. After all, so much in the marketing world deserves it. Too many writers and pundits are little more than cheerleaders who parrot the cliches of the moment with juvenile and incredibly uninfectious enthusiasm. Too few comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But now, it is time for something completely different.

Although everyone, by the very act of working in marketing, is trying to sell something, there is indeed a lot of good in the marketing industry. So, for this column near the end of 2017, I wanted to be positive and highlight what has been worthy of commendation this year.

In January, Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard gave what might have been the most important marketing presentation in years. In a talk at the annual leadership meeting of the Internet Advertising Bureau in Florida, he advocated for one viewability standard, accredited third-party measurement verification, transparent agency contracts, and the prevention of online advertising fraud.

The long-term results remain to be seen. But the fact that the world’s largest advertiser called out the alleged malpractices in the online advertising world is something that many critics, including myself, had dreamed about for years. Kudos to Pritchard for finally putting some teeth in the form of reduced budget allocations and changed ad spend behind the criticisms. He basically told the industry, “Show me the money!” as well as the actual value from his company’s marketing investments.

In July, Moz announced that co-founder and former chief executive Rand Fishkin next year will be leaving the SEO software company, which he founded more than 15 years ago. I have met Fishkin once at the MozCon conference in Seattle, seen him speak on several occasions, and have read his writings for years. In a marketing world that is full of too many charlatans, he has always stood out as a person who is as down-to-earth as he is humble and brilliant. It is a shame that more marketers outside of the niche SEO world do not know him.

Fishkin is also truly transparent. A lot of companies in the high-tech world claim to be transparent, but most are full of it because they always celebrate the positive but never disclose or admit the negative. There are numerous such examples of these businesses reportedly breaking the law. I will not name them here, but I am sure readers will remember the stories from the headlines over the past few years.

Both Moz and Fishkin himself, however, are indeed transparent. Moz publishes annual company reports on the blog stating the good and bad even though, as a private company, it never needs to do so. More importantly, Fishkin writes highly personal and honest accounts of the highs, lows, and mental tolls of growing and running a company. His genuineness and openness have inspired countless digital marketers and startup founders.

If there is anyone who deserves a nice, long vacation after many years of hard work, it is Rand Fishkin.

In August, Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman published “Bad Men: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace.” There are certain things that you are only allowed to say when you are retired. Hoffman says them all and more. But after years of being a caustic blogger who criticizes the advertising industry, Hoffman graduated this year into important social commentary and advocacy with his latest writings.

Hoffman’s book explores the world of ad tech in which ad fraud reportedly wastes or even steals billions of dollars, personal information is being harvested and sold in the practice of ‘marketing surveillance’, and legitimate publishers are losing money due to ad spends being automatically directed towards the cheapest – and often the most dangerous – websites on the internet.

All of this, Hoffman argues, is threatening democracy. Even if you do not agree, his book is worth a read.

In October, the world saw some of the most ingenious creative campaigns of the year, focusing on the releases of the new version of the horror film IT and the second series of the Netflix drama Stranger Things. In Germany, Burger King ambushed McDonalds by showing this message during the end credits of the premiere of IT: ‘The Moral is: Never Trust a Clown… Burger King’. Burger King’s flagship Leicester Square restaurant in London also gave free Whoppers to people dressed as clowns for Halloween.

Also that month, many brands partnered with Netflix for campaigns that highlighted the horror aspects and eighties callbacks of Stranger Things 2. Reebok and Ghostbusters, two of the things that exemplify that decade, created a special trainer that references the program. Spotify created playlists based on the 13 main characters. Lyft gave surprise Stranger Things-inspired rides to people in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Eggo, the favorite waffle of one of the leads, developed recipes based on the show. Topshop in the UK had Stranger Things clothing as well as a themed window installation and a tribute to a deceased character.

In November, the 3% Movement held its annual conference in New York City. At a time when the political, entertainment, and business worlds are undergoing extensive self-examinations of the relationships and interactions between men and women, the work of this group is more important than ever.

Founder Kat Gordon, who worked for 20 years as a copywriter and creative director, wants to increase the percentage of creative directors who are women through the group’s mix of publicity, community events, and professional development. Such a goal is not only a moral imperative but also good business. After all, women make most of the consumer buying decisions within households, and the only way to be truly creative is to include people from various backgrounds and viewpoints.

At the conference this year, Gordon announced 2017’s Next Creative Leaders, a group of talented up-and-coming women who will surely do wonderful things in the industry.

On December 15, The Webby Awards will close nominations for the best cause marketing PR campaign – as well as all other categories – for the organization’s 2018 awards. The Drum rightly believes that marketing can change the world – and too many marketers forget that fact. Large corporations with millions of dollars, pounds, or euros can easily have an effect, but it is the nonprofits with limited budgets that often have to be the most creative.

I encourage everyone to nominate the campaigns that truly make a difference in our world.

The end of the year also sees the release of many surveys, annual reviews, and projections for the future. Here are a few interesting ones that caught my eye. Cision and PR Week released the 2017 Global Comms Report. SEMrush researched search engine ranking factors. PageFair held a podcast with the International Association of Privacy Professionals on how the EU’s GDPR regulation will affect websites and ad tech platforms. Age of Majority published a white paper analyzing the growth opportunities marketers miss by ignoring so-called ‘mature audiences.’

Honourable mentions: While writing this column, I asked people on social media what they thought were the best things in the marketing industry in 2017. Without comment from me, here is some of what they said:

  • “TV did not die. People are still using ad blockers. Millennials emerged as the most abused group by marketers worldwide.”
  • “I think what I was most fascinated by this year was the idea of IG-worthy branded ‘experiences’ like the Trap House, Delta Dating Wall, Museum of Ice Cream, etc.”
  • “Chatbots.”
  • “For once it felt like there was not a ‘hot new social network’ we all needed to jump on. It was a year to focus on established platforms.”

For my part, my resolution for 2018 is to be more positive. As a reflection on 2017, this is a start. But be warned: if you or your company does any bullshit next year, you are still hereby put on notice.

The Promotion Fix is an exclusive biweekly column for The Drum contributed by global marketing speaker Samuel Scott, a former journalist, newspaper editor, and director of marketing and communications in the high-tech industry. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Scott is based out of Tel Aviv, Israel.


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