• Harry Lang

What if God was one of us?


This article originally appeared in Marketing Week in January 2018

Adam and Eve had no real use for a new 64Gb iPhone X with double data package. If they wanted to explore, they could walk around the limitless bounds of Eden at will with no need to plug into Waze. Dating was a foregone conclusion, no formal employment meant no email and if they wanted to chat, they could simply talk to each other.

The apple that did have a certain appeal was literal yet totally forbidden. That was until a wily snake, oozing sales savvy from every scale, used all the direct marketing tricks in the book, from brand hype to negging, in order to close the aspirational Eve. In a trick mimicked by Millennial-hungry brands to this day, he suggested parental disapproval to entice and excite the naïve Eve even more.

He then sweetened the pot with a ‘buy now, pay later’ sales promotion device.

Behaviour like this and the subsequent fall out for every human being on the planet (granted, there were only two of them) set a nasty precedent for dirty marketing tricks and nefarious sales tactics. Cain and Able looked like a prime case for no win, no fee litigation. Noah instigated the early equivalent of a Sandal’s couple’s holiday (“Cruise with me – or sink to your untimely death” – classic Noah) and Lot’s wife just had to look in the right place to win a lifetime’s supply of salt.

Apparently God found all this Gung Ho marketing activity more than a little trying, so in a rather grandiose statement He sent a list of guidelines down to Moses via Mount Sinai, carved in tablets rather than the more user friendly native App format.

By all accounts, this happened a while back now so how relevant are these rules to the modern day marketer? Can they be salvaged, refreshed and updated or are they as out-dated as Jesus sandals?

It seems that with the constant innovation in communications, platforms, media and tools we’ve rather outgrown His early efforts and have ridden roughshod over the 10 Commandments in order to make a buck.

‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ has been wholeheartedly ignored, at least if 4,200+ alternate religions and Bieber’s Insta channel are to be believed.

“You shall not make idols”. Pop, American, Indian, New Zealand – there are now over 46 variants around the world with versions broadcast to more than 6.6 billion people in 150 countries. Take that, Commandment 2!

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”. Joel Scott Osteen, known as ‘Pastor Joe’ to his 20 million monthly viewers in over 100 countries is an extraordinary salesman trading under the catchy job title of ‘Televangelist’. Go and have a gander on YouTube – if this guy’s grip on the scriptures were any looser he’d spill the bulk of the $60 million he’s reportedly scammed (sorry, raised) from his adoring flock. Jesus wept, and God would probably go a step further.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. A tricky one to defend, Commandment number 4, because Sainsbury’s and friends being open on a Sunday is actually pretty useful to most of us.

“Honor your father and your mother”. It still amazes me that I’m bombarded with TV ads for car insurance, supermarkets, loo roll, new sparkly Smartphones and a seemingly endless line in things that look like butter (but surely can’t be butter) and yet a demographic of nearly 12 million over 65’s (ONS, July 2017) remain woefully under-served. Many of them time rich and cash wealthy thanks to booming property values, we should perhaps add an addendum to this Commandment: - ‘Also remember the grandparents’.

‘You shall not murder‘ – Exhibit A – Kendall Jenner for Pepsi. Death by a thousand cuts. Think, you high-spending, sugar-rushing numpties – think!

‘You shall not commit adultery’. We can put at least some of the blame for breaking this one on the shoulders of the consumer – they’re a fickle bunch, for sure. However their reasons to chop and change at the first sight of a BOGOF deal is simply the market responding to value urges above brand advocacy. Loyalty has to be earned – repeatedly, it seems. Brand switching is an unfortunate side effect of working in a vibrant economy so you can either cut your cost, improve product quality or sprinkle magic fairy dust on your brand to make it hyper desirable.

‘You shall not steal’. Have you seen an original ad this year? Like the movie industry relying on sequels it looks like we’re in serious danger of running out of new ideas. As a regular TV watcher and semi-professional procrastinator, the frequency with which I get déjà vu is getting quite galling and plagiarism is rife. A cursory glance at Private Eye’s ‘Ad Nauseam’ column last week flags up such esteemed perpetrators as Nestle/ JWT with a second hand KitKat ad and The BBC/ Y&R with their Winter Olympics campaign.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of these client presentations, applauding a strutting ECD with recycled You Tube idea in one hand and a five zeros invoice in the other.

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’. This one means don’t lie, doesn’t it? Well white lies in marketing are fine, I assume, otherwise we’re really going to have to start from scratch with ‘Honesty’. However this may not be such a bad thing, as fans of Dudley Moore’s 1990 classic movie Crazy People will attest.

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife’. This Commandment is particularly topical. In late January 2018 reports seeped through Vice and Motherboard about ‘Fake App’ – a tool that can overlay someone’s face onto a video body. Like your colleague’s face onto Jabba the Hut’s slithering form. Or a young Hollywood starlet into a porn film, thus facilitating a billion illegitimate, illegal, phony sex tapes. It’s disgusting, deplorable and deserves to be banned for the rest of eternity. I’m kind of surprised none of the popular gods have had a word with the App’s makers (/r/deepfakes if anyone wants to let him know their feelings on the matter).

These days, the ASA, CAP Codes, CIM, CIPR & Ofcom are the core regulatory bodies for UK marketing, advertising, PR & TV professionals. Higher risk product categories like food, alcohol, beauty products, environmentally friendly products, medicines, tobacco and gambling have supplemental sub-sets of guidelines, in some cases added voluntarily, on top of those. Additionally many are introducing proactive communications guidelines to protect their ability to market themselves in the future. However there remain some significant gaps - some practical, some ethical and some just common sense.

As consumers have become increasingly savvy and choices available to them broader, it seems there would be considerable benefit in updating our own advertising and marketing industry Commandments beyond the letter of the law. Acting right (as opposed to simply following the guidelines to the least viable extent) would show a responsible, customer-centric intent and a long-game view that intense competition and the hunger for success appear to have shunted firmly to the sidelines.

Having completed a seven-day turnaround on creation the Earth, the universe and everything, God apparently “…saw all that he had made, and it was very good”. Perhaps its time to draw up a set of your own Commandments – a personal check list of how you can act more responsibly in your marketing - and maybe you’ll be able to say the same.

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