What do Adidas mean by relentless and aggressive story telling?

The Adidas story in Marketing Week caught my eye this morning and of course that was partly the intention.

It also got me thinking more deeply about the article (my elaboration likelihood was huge), I was puzzled at the use of language.

It’s well known that stories are powerful ways of communicating. Think Nordic sagas, religious parables and so on. The world of management refers to them as crucial ways to engage audiences and paint vivid visions. Great leaders tell good stories. 

What however is a ‘relentless and aggressive’ story? What is inferred (cf Grice, Sperber and Wilson, Clark) by this choice of words? what does such language symbolise about the speaker?

If stories are meant to engage why on earth would you want to communicate in a relentless and aggressive way? Isn’t this the style of communication that is typical of despots and dictators rather than someone proposing the value of their products for customers to review and select? Is this an example of old fashioned marketing monologic rather dialogic communication (cf Ballantyne and Varey)? 

What does this language indicate about the mind set of the speaker and the social norms of the business world they inhabit? Is aggression and relentlessness lauded as a way of behaving in that business and in that market sector?

Research I recently conducted on sales interactions revealed that the customers sense of value is associated with the respect and politeness that is given by the seller to the buyer. Relentlessness (a mistaken word for tenacity perhaps?) is viewed by customers as hectoring and intrusive, aggressiveness is deemed to be impolite and immature. This way of communicating is the sign of the junior and the inexperienced rather than the mature and wise.

What is the point of describing your work as relentless and aggressive? I can only presume that is how the buyer of advertising services offered by the pitching ad agency judges their suppliers? In other words the buyer believes ‘relentlessness and aggression’ are good attributes thus the ad agenciy’s pitch is based on fitting in with an assumed way of behaving that is deemed the right way to go about business. The language of of relentless aggression signifies the cutting edge of competitive attitude, it is militaristic in tone and indicative of a macho managerialist world view. 

But…ironically isn’t it so anti-marketing ? A marketing campaign that isn’t marketing? Spooky! 

Sure take your competitive situation seriously, sure fight it out to the best of your ability, sure keep at it when the going gets tough. 

It may even be the case that a target customer for Adidas is an aspiring athlete who is deemed to be successful by relentlessness and aggression or sees themselves as relentless and aggressive. Smudging customer insight about attitudes and behaviours into a way of talking to your customer is probably a mistake however.

Talk of relentlessness and aggression in this way seems all about how YOU want to communicate with customer not communicating on issues that matter to them. Why assume a relentless and aggressive approach to story telling is an appropriate way to engage with customers and invite them to hand over money to buy your brand and its products? 

Stop trying to give people the impression how hard and driven you are and start thinking about conveying the value of your products to your customers would be my suggestion. 

Selling the Christmas Service


When I saw this banner outside our local church this morning it got me thinking.

I find the way ‘management speak’ has seeped into every aspect of our lives fascinating and disturbing at the same time don’t you?

The curious thing about a dominant discourse is just how natural and obvious it seems. So much so that we stop talking about the world in alternative ways. This means that we all make sense of the world ‘as if’ it always ever should be explained through the words of ‘management’.

Why do we do this? Is it to symbolise that we ‘belong to the management club’? Is it to give the impression that we have professional management insights that the lay person doesn’t have? Is basically to announce that we are compliant and have no desire to be different?

Don’t misunderstand me I have no issue with the sentiment on the banner outside the church. I am simply curious as to how managerial language is so easily used without any sense of where it comes from or how it shapes our world.

Business management has done a great marketing job. It has sold it’s approach and language successfully around the world. We have Philip Kotler see Kotler, P (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54 to thank for this. Oil company, retailer, school, hospital or church we all ‘do marketing’.

So here we have a banner that tells us about a ‘family focused service’. Nothing wrong in that eh? But why interject ‘focused’? That is management speak, a word that infers deliberate managerial attention, a word from market research. Why couldn’t they simply announce they are holding a family service?

We are then told we are having a reflective service. As if a spiritual service would be anything else! Reflection is also a hot management idea soon to be usurped by ‘mindfulness’ (which spookily has spiritual origins). Reflective practitioners (cf Donald Schon) are claimed to be better practioners. Does this mean that reflective members of the congregation are better than non reflective ones? I wonder how that might be measured.

Maybe the church has got something though! What if we are so inured to management speak that it is the ‘new normal’. This means that in order for the church to communicate it has to use language that resonates with it’s intended audience. An audience so uncritically immersed in the discourse of managerialism it doesn’t ‘hear’ any other messages. Now that’s something to run up the flag pole isn’t it.

Is Black Friday a corporate social responsibility issue?


Is Black Friday a Corporate Social Responsibiity issue? I wonder how long it will before our police forces charge for their presence in the same way they charge UK football clubs to cope with hooliganism.

Raises some interesting questions about the impact of tapping into materialistic drives and the manipulation of festive occasions to exploit rampant consumerism based on a sense of scarcity (cf Cialdini)

The idea that a spiritual festive period originally conceived to mark the return of light to the world (cf Mithras) is being turned into a base feeding frenzy is ironic.

Is adding value to services a dumb idea?


One of my favourite quotes of the moment is by Shostack:

‘services are often inextricably entwined with their human representatives. In many fields, a person is perceived to be the service’

Shostack G.L. (1977) Breaking Free from Product Marketing, Journal of Marketing 41(2): 73–80.

This got me thinking about the unexpected and unwanted side effects of dreaming up supposedly added value service initiatives.

If the person is the service then the only way to add more value is to add more things for the person to do. Now you don’t have to be Einstein to realise that these things become additional burdens which can only dilute the primary purpose of the service.

Surely it’s better to invest in the capability of the primary service the customer is using rather than keep piling on extraneous service add-ons in the mistaken belief that this some how improves the service?  The implication here of course is that there is clear grasp of the fundamental value proposition of the service, that this is acknowledged by all who have authority to ‘add value’ and that adding value only happens if is resonates with the fundamental proposition.

Value adding seen from the perspective of ‘arbitrary added value ideas’ can therefore only result perversely in increased service ineffectiveness.

To paraphrase Drucker the thing about added value ideas is that they quickly degenerate into hard work typically for the ‘someone else’ who is the service!

What do you learn with an MBA?

Daniel Roth has recently published a provocative post on LinkedIn about the perils of doing business with people who have an MBA when he interviewed entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran.


This was brought to my attention by good friend Steve Murray of Green Dog Media in the UK

So why does Barabara make this claim? Is she typical of the green eyed snipers that make a sport of diminishing the value higher education in general and management education in particular? Is she an evangelist from the school of hard knocks? I don’t think so.

As someone who has achieved an MBA myself I think she is making an extremely profound observation.

What do you learn when you embark on an MBA? The off the cuff response might be, ‘how to manage more effectively’. Sure you learn lots of tools and techniques and sure you get insights from interacting with fellow students but the question remains – what do you learn when you do an MBA?

The elephant in the room, the mystery behind the magic is that when you study a typical MBA you are buying into a very particular type of management philosophy.

This philosophy aspires to making management a ‘science’ based on a set of assumptions about how we should understand the world, what we accept as evidence, the nature of causes and effects and how you should take action. The more managing a business becomes ‘objectively scientific’ the better it is an MBA..er will claim.

The disturbing thing however is that the MBA acolyte and subsequently the hordes of MBA neophytes who have this classic MBA experience talk ‘as if’ this way of making sense of management is the only game in town. They talk with the stridency and confidence that only comes with ignorance.

Let’s be clear an MBA is a level of qualification. How that qualification is achieved doesn’t necessarily have to be wedded to a particular managerial outlook although at the moment it typically is. The MBA is over 100 years old and it invariably reflects the quantification and systemisation of management.

Perhaps the most powerful example of this mindset is Robert McNamara US Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam war in the 1960s who stated:

every quantitative measure we have shows we are winning this war’

I believe the explanation for Barabara’s observations lies in this issue. She alludes to problem that MBA..ers believe they are qualified to run a business. This is a mistake. The only thing that qualifies you to run a business is the experience of running a business.

Not only that the ‘management science’ approach and the managerial discourse so beloved of the ‘bullshit bingo’ fans amongst you overlooks one very significant thing. Running an organisation, and doing business is a social phenomena. People aren’t protons. (cf Steven Pinker)

The social perspective of management invites us to consider the meaning making of practioners, the language they use and how our social worlds are constructed by the very people who exist in them. People hold diverse mind sets and assumptions and these guide how they operate in the world. The social perspective of management pays attention to the nature of interactions and how these influence our success or otherwise at work.

Swap the classic management analysis (induction) approach of the typical MBA  for a concern with interpretation and imagination (abduction) and I think we are getting closer to explaining why you might loose money going into business with an MBA..er. If the only thing they know about is the cold, analytical, objectification of the social world of business and the mistaken belief that it is exclusively structures and procedures that lead to organisational success then you get what you pay for.

Barbara I suspect is one of these ‘other’ sorts who sees management differently.

At Sheffield Business School you can embark on full time or part time mba programme of study that invites you to consider classic management approaches to understanding people, organisations and management alongside challenging alternative perspectives.

Do you push your customers around?

An interesting article in Marketing Week on the working relationship between sales and marketing functions got me thinking.

Diageo seek greater sales and marketing unity.

Set in the context of retail marketing the article says the two functions at a major retail supplier are going to work together to push customers to a sale.

I found this use of language interesting (not withstanding the organisational problem of marketing and sales not working together)

What does ‘push’ infer? Sounds to me like customers are seen as resources to be exploited? Isn’t this the ‘sales’ led mentality that is criticised in conventional marketing management theory.

Don’t get me wrong, of course companies need sales and profit, and yes they are under pressure to compete, and for sure customers need compelling reasons to buy.

To be ‘pushed’ to a sale? What is this saying about how this retailer sees ‘you’ the customer? Are you an unthinking dupe who has to be told what to do? Are you incapable of making an informed choice between offers of value?

If the value proposition was any good wouldn’t you see it’s relevance to your needs and your life?

I feel for the marketing function here. Seems probable they are the junior partner and not making their advertising pushy enough for the sales team?

Are we really customers in the eyes of rail company’s?

I had an interesting experience on my rail commute this morning.

Unannounced on the train I was given a demand to ‘see my ticket’ by a plain clothed Department of Transport official – reluctant to explain his purpose I asked ‘compliance and quality?’ – he merely smiled and said ‘yes, you could say that…’

Any clues what this is about peeps? The two chaps were very assertive and seemed very confident of their power and authority. The two plain clothed gentlemen whose only ID was a lapel badge challenged every passenger.

You will notice that I am not using term customer here as it seems that passengers only exist as customers in the rail-co fluff and rhetoric and not really what they sincerely believe.

Otherwise why would I as a paying customer feel unease at the unannounced exercise and reluctance to explain the reason for it. I was made to feel as if I had possibly done something wrong.

I’d prefer it if rail organisations were honest instead of drawing from a discourse of customer centricity to present a flawed impression of service reality. Behind the scenes it seems obvious that the rail companies don’t really believe we are customers.

If it is a ‘revenue protection’ exercise why don’t you simply tell us?

Best conspiracy theory gets a biscuit :)


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