Does nasty sell?

A couple notes before I climb onto my soapbox.

  • This is not a political blog nor really is this a political post.  I promise.
  • I am not endorsing any of the candidates…they’re just my putty to mold into the point I’m trying to make.
  • Stay with me through the political example to find the marketing truth.

A few weeks ago, I had some of the hottest tickets in town.  The Des Moines Register holds two final debates right before making their endorsement and because of the venue and security — it’s invite only for a 150 or so people.  I missed the Republican debate because of a client commitment but was able to attend (and take my daughter) to the Democratic debate.

In the 90 minutes of usual rhetoric and weasel-wording that we’ve forced the politicians to use so we won’t crucify them later, there were two moments of sincerity.  The first one got huge play on national media.

I guarantee that you saw it.  It was Obama taking a little dig at Hillary about how she’s going to end up advising him.  It added nothing of substance to the debate but it was probably the most played segment of the entire 90 minutes.

On the flip side, this second snippet created hardly a ripple. Very few viewings on YouTube and I never saw it on any national or even local coverage.  And yet, it spoke to the character of the candidates in a very profound way.

The question was directed at Joe Biden and suggested he might be a racist.  What you can’t see on the video is while Biden is responding, all of his opponents are nodding in support of what he’s saying.  At the end, Obama speaks out to defend Biden and ALL the candidates applaud him (Biden). 

That should have been big news.  But it wasn’t.

So what does this have to do with marketing?  Only everything.

One of the truths about marketing is that you have to work twice as hard to earn someone’s delight to the point that they’ll talk about it.  Give them shoddy service or mess up an order and BAM! they’re telling everyone they know.  But do it well — nothing.

You know what the big complaint was about these debates?  They were boring.  No fireworks.  The media wanted blood and when they didn’t really get any — they settled for Obama’s one-liner. 

I didn’t read one commentary that said how nice it was that there weren’t fireworks.  Or how the candidates actually said nice things about each other.

You simply can not go out there and be good.  It will be the death of your business.  It seems as though our world can’t get enough of conflict (check out reality TV) or competition.  But we’ve been so spoiled and catered to as businesses scramble to win our money — that the bar is not at good.  It’s at remarkable.  It’s at "I can’t believe it."  It’s at "I would have never guessed you could…"

That is what we’re up against.  We have to shout so loudly against the nasty, biting wind that we can be heard. 

What do you have in your marketing plan for ’08 that is so remarkable that it will win the attention of your most cynical customers or prospects?  My guess is that you’ve got nothing.  Most businesses don’t go this deep.  So I am challenging you…how are you going to be different?  What stories will people tell about your business in ’08?

Related posts:
Are we playing the wrong role in our stories?
Are you boring your customers?
Start the New Year with a BANG!

14 comments on “Does nasty sell?

  1. Shirley says:

    This is so true! I will have to share this with our marketing co-op at our next session. One of our competitors has slightly started to go down the ‘negative’ path and I would hate to see our counter-offensive be, well, offensive!

    It’s hard to make the message positive enough and strong enough to reach any unknown ‘secondary’ customers. For example, one of the services we provide is to package customers’ items for shipment. We packaged thousands of items for shipment during December. Our in-store customers seem to appreciate the extra care we provide and the value of our service, and they often say so.

    Yet the recipients of those items are also customers, albeit in a very different way… they often see things very differently. We hear from these ‘secondary’ customers too, and even though the customer has received an item that was delivered on-time and unbroken… the phone call is still made to us to complain about having to clean up the packing peanuts or how hard it was to open the box. The negative shouted louder than the positive.

    If we can’t figure out how to change their perception of the experience, we will never be able to get those ‘secondary’ customers to come back as ‘primary’ customers!

  2. Shama Hyder says:

    This is why you always have to ask clients that if they like your work to please tell others. Because most won’t shout a good thing from the roof tops as they will the bad. You have to encourage them to get the word out.

    We plan to be remarkable in 2008 by really revving up the level of service and provide no-hype marketing help.

    = )

  3. Drew – Great reminder that we have to stay “remarkable” – good won’t get it. Happy New Year. – Cyndee Haydon

  4. Lewis Green says:


    You ask a tough question, not because it is difficult to answer but because answering it in the positive sounds arrogant. But I will risk being stereotyped:

    We make two promises:
    1) We will exceed your goals (expectations), and
    2) We will make you happy.

    And we back up both with a guarantee. If we don’t exceed the goals (they are always measurable), you get money back. If we don’t make you happy (and we take your word on this), you get money back.

    And finally, we always put people first, not profits.

  5. Cam Beck says:

    I’d wager nasty sells in politics — especially party electioneering — much better than it sells in the public marketplace. There is much difference between the two models in the options and stakes.

    Additionally, the media are paid to be cynical and even pessimistic when it comes to politics and government. A free press is, after all, the government’s watchdog, so their incentive drives them to uncover the malfeasance of government and the lies of politicians.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since government isn’t affected by market forces when run improperly the same way corporations are.

    However, the media have taken this to another level by analyzing things beyond facts and figures, but also tone, style, and even the very question whether someone should be considered for office, based on subjective criteria that determines whom they will or will not cover, and what they will or won’t say about them (or in the case of these “debates,” what they will even allow them to say in a “public” forum). The people consume it because the snack culture we’ve developed over time has no patience for long, drawn-out confrontations that requires any depth of thought.

    In their minds, it costs more to learn what they need to learn about the purpose and requirements of governments than to judge candidates on style points.

    Corporations don’t face this same scrutiny from the media, because they already face the scrutiny from their stockholders and competition, both of whom have a vested interest in making sure the corp. is on the level (except when they are artificially trying to manipulate the public perception of value in order to personally profit).

    The media won’t hesitate to pounce on a corporation once malfeasance has been uncovered, but they leave the discovery of such malfeasance to the people who have an incentive to find it.

  6. Shirley,

    So for you…the trick is to create an experience for those secondary customers that turns their complaining into raving. It sounds like you guys are on top of your game, so how do you currently do that?


  7. Shama,

    So what does ramping up the customer service level look like in tangible terms?


  8. Cyndee —

    Good won’t get it indeed. What will you guys do to be remarkable this year?


  9. Lewis,

    It doesn’t sound arrogant. It sounds like you practice what you preach. 🙂

    And who can argue with you when you put your money where your mouth is?

    I’m curious — how often has a client asked for their money back? (I’m betting very few)


  10. Cam,

    No arguments from me that it is healthy for the media to serve as watchdogs. But as you point out — it has gotten to an extreme. I truly believe it is one of the reasons why the best potential candidates for most political offices won’t run for them. We have dumbed down our candidate pool because of the over scrutiny.

    I think it’s interesting that, with exception of the light-hearted PC/Mac ads, we don’t see a lot of head to head “nastiness.” When I was a kid, there were the Burger King/McDonalds feuds and even Coke and Pepsi would take their swings.

    Seems like we’re a kinder, more gentler ad cycle. At least for now.


  11. Shirley says:

    Hi Drew,
    Usually, these ‘secondary’ customers are hundreds if not thousands of miles away and we never meet them or have the opportunity to provide our excellent service first-hand. But hopefully, our ‘secondary’ customers are ‘primary’ to one of our sibling franchises, so we as owners have to work as a team to get out a consistent message and ensure THEIR service is also excellent.

    I see a two-pronged approach: First and foremost, continue to work with the Franchise to ensure that customer service remains the core priority and that current and prospective owners have the tools and training they need to commit to (and execute) excellent service. Second, work to ensure that our area marketing co-op works with the regional and national co-ops to convey a consistent message to our customers. (How to get that message to shout louder than all other negative messages is precisely the challenge you present and I can’t wait to see what the other owners come up with when I ask them at our next meeting!)

  12. Cam Beck says:

    “We have dumbed down our candidate pool because of the over scrutiny.”

    I am not sure if over-scrutiny is the problem. It seems to me that if we would just scrutinize more of the right things and less of the wrong things, we’d be in much better shape.

    In the end, we get the government we deserve, and it will not change until the people decide enough is enough (which means they must educate themselves).

    I have my doubts if that’s a realistic objective, and if we’re just destined to cease to be what once made us great.

  13. Cam,

    Yes…I think your language is more precise. I meant over scrutinize in that we seem to care about things that we should just let be.

    “We get the government that we deserve.” That may be the most perfect summary of the current environment that I’ve heard.

    Our political landscape wasn’t always like this. So when and why do you think it changed?


  14. Shirley,

    Training is a huge part of it, isn’t it? It’s one thing for us to know the company’s expectations in terms of customer service and it is a whole different thing for our front line employees (or franchise owners) to know and live it.

    I agree — pulling the group together to see what they come up with will yield some very interesting results. If you remember…come back and let us know!


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