Marketing: A dark art?

Recently, I heard marketing described as ‘a dark art.’ What a shame that our profession is so misunderstood and maligned. This reputation for trickery and obfuscation is undeserved. My guess is that people who feel this way have experienced unsuccessful marketing campaigns and are fearful of sorting out the reasons why the programmes failed.

Professional marketeers and communicators bring ethics and transparency to their work. We aren’t misleading or mysterious and our intention is not to dupe people into doing things they shouldn’t. Certainly in the health care field, there are numerous regulations to stop dishonest sales techniques. But the communicators I admire avoid deception because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of industry rules.

We are paid to develop persuasive messages and make sure the right audiences see them at the right time to encourage action. Yes, we research audiences and identify their motivations to sell products and services, but there is no hidden agenda. The last thing we want is for audiences to feel bullied or tricked into making decisions, then regretful afterwards. The ideal result is for an audience to clearly understand and buy into our marketing messages so they are happy with the intended action and even recommend it to others.

All this pushes consumers to be more savvy, which is no bad thing. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people carefully analysed their purchase options and made educated choices? The more shrewd audiences become, the more honest marketing campaigns need to be. One could suggest this creates a virtuous circle between communicators and their audiences.

Despite comments about marketing as a dark art, I will continue aiming for transparency and honesty in my communications programmes. It makes good business sense because this is what clients want. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) published a report demonstrating that the top three attributes clients look for in consultants are creativity, honesty and trust. So let’s continue being genuine and transparent and carry on the professional reputation of the marketing field.


Book group – Travels with Charley

John Steinbeck has been my favorite author for a long time so I’m not sure why it has taken me until now to read this gem. Especially as an American living abroad, I was moved by Steinbeck’s impressions of my country as he encountered people from all walks of life. I can’t say that he paints a flattering picture, but his honest reflections remind us about the issues the nation struggles with even now.

  1. What role did Charley play in Steinbeck’s travels and the stories he told? How would the memoir have been different if Steinbeck had traveled alone or had not written about his canine companion?
  2. What were the most memorable scenes in the journey for you? Mine was the depiction of Wisconsin, the dairy state. Steinbeck’s recollection that ‘Cheese was everywhere’ rang very true.
  3. Did Steinbeck show us aspects of America’s regions and people in ways we might miss if we visited? How did he elicit so much from each person he spoke with on his journey?
  4. Steinbeck states a few times in the book that he started the journey the find out about America. Do you think he went on the trip with pre-conceived attitudes and opinions about the nation and its people? Was he trying to prove or disprove any particular theories?
  5. What identifying characteristics of Americans did Steinbeck encounter across the regions he visited? Do you agree that Americans display these traits wherever they live, even outside of America?
  6. This memoir of Steinbeck’s journey around America focuses more on the Northeast, Midwest and West. Toward the end of his trip, he writes only a little about the South. What impression does this leave with the reader about this region?
  7. Have you ever thought about or felt a desire to travel the way Steinbeck does across a country? I admired his self-contained vehicle, Rocinante, but wondered if I would miss room service!
  8. Much has been written about Steinbeck as an author and, in particular, about this book. Did ‘Travels with Charley’ make you want to read more of his work, or read more about his travels?

Travels with Charley

Book group – In the Heart of the Sea

This book was recommended by a friend with excellent taste in books so I knew it would be good. Several of Nathaniel Philbrick’s books are about the sea and he persuades us to jump aboard the whaleship Essex with authority and charm. I loved the historical accuracy of the true story that inspired Moby Dick and the ‘Ideas, interviews & features’ at the back of the book provides even more learning resources.

  1. What did you learn about Nantucket and New England that you didn’t know before?
  2. How does Philbrick explain the characters’ backgrounds and motivations in a way that’s relevant to us today?
  3. Did you feel any sympathy for the whalers even though they were engaged in a grisly industry? Is it possible to respect them for their knowledge and skill despite how they used their talents?
  4. As tensions rise on the Essex, much drama unfolds among the crew. Is there an equivalent to this type of group dynamic on shore? Do people still display the fear, greed, panic and heroism shown by some of the crew?
  5. What type of person would have been drawn to the whaling trade? Do other hunters need that level of bravery in the face of such ferocious and gigantic prey?
  6. What do you think led to the sperm whale attack of 1820 described in the book? Do you think Philbrick asserts a particular reasoning? What are the other potential outcomes?
  7. What lessons did whalers learn from the string of disasters that happened on Essex?
  8. How would modern explorers respond in a similar situation?
  9. Which scenes were the most difficult to read? Did you finish the book feeling grateful for the solid ground under your feet?
  10. Why are we compelled to read about disasters such as this dramatic sea story? What do we learn about human behaviour from the crew of the Essex?

In the Heart of the Sea

Book group – The Boys in the Boat

Who would have thought that a group of women in Chiswick would have chosen a sports memoir for book group and loved it so much? Well, some in the group are actually quite sporty and into rowing themselves. But it came as a surprise to me. I was drawn in by the extraordinary perseverance of the young rowers. So much that I recall having to tell my children to make their own dinner because I was in the middle of a dramatic and suspenseful race scene. Well done to Daniel James Brown for weaving a compelling sports drama through the Depression and Hitler’s Germany.

  1. How did the author evoke time and place throughout the book, particularly the desperately poor conditions of Joe’s childhood?
  2. How did Joe’s experiences exploring forests and working with lumber add to his respect for the shells used for rowing?
  3. How did the depiction of Nazi Germany just before the war add to your knowledge of that period in history? Did you think more could have been done by the International Olympic Committee to uncover the discrimination and corruption?
  4. How would Joe and his crewmates have been different people if they had not grown up during the Depression? What impact did the crushing economic downturn have on their determination to win?
  5. What did George Pocock’s quotes at the beginning of each chapter add to the book?
  6. What role do university sports programmes play in building young students into men and women?
  7. Do we have a modern-day equivalent to the 1936 US Olympic rowing crew? Could we ever?
  8. As the story was told mostly from Joe’s perspective, was there a voice you missed? Another character whose perspective would have added to the descriptions of events?
  9. What do you think motivated Judy, Joe’s daughter, to tell this story through the author?
  10. What makes ‘underdog’ stories so compelling? Why do we root for the plucky team coming up from the back and why are we so thrilled to see them overcome adversity?

Boys in the Boat

Book group – The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler’s writing is so accessible and this story is no exception. We’re asked to believe, or at least observe, the protagonist’s visions of his recently departed wife.  Following the trail of the characters’ courtship and marriage lets us wonder why we fall in love and what happens if the loved one disappears.

  1. Did you have a particular reaction to the story because it was told from a man’s perspective? Did the internal dialogue ring true? How might it have been different from a woman’s point of view?
  2. Where did your sympathies lie, with Aaron or Dorothy? Did you recognise their feelings?
  3. Could you believe that Aaron really saw and spoke to Dorothy after she died? What did you feel toward Aaron when he reported these sightings?
  4. What would have motivated Dorothy to come back and visit Aaron after her death? As Aaron suggests, did one of them or both have ‘unfinished business?’
  5. Why do you think the author chose the title, ‘The Beginner’s Goodbye?’ Did you think Aaron was consciously saying goodbye to Dorothy through the story?
  6. Why did the author include Nandina’s story line? How was her life juxtaposed against Aaron’s? Was it important for Aaron to see his sister in a relationship/moving on after Dorothy’s death?
  7. What impression did you have of Aaron regarding his desire not to be ‘mothered’ or comforted by the women in his life? Was this pretence or a genuine need? How was his life built around this need?
  8. What role did Aaron’s work colleagues play in the story? How did each of them help him move through his grief?
  9. What did you think of Aaron’s male friends who offered support? How did Gil, Luke and Nate help Aaron?
  10. How did you feel about Aaron and Peggy at the end of the story? What purpose did it serve to describe Aaron in a parental role? How had the characters changed over time?

beginners goodbye