Are Scary Ads Ethical?

A Norfolk theme park has had an advert banned for being too scary. 

Marketing Week Clown advert article explains how Norfolk Dinosaur Park are running a Primeval event which has attracted controversy for frightening children  through its advertising. 
Now call me a cynic, don’t you think it’s all a bit suspicious? What a great way to get more than the expected level of interest in your value proposition. Get it banned and improve your brand!

There seems to be a pattern here with Norfolk and marketing communications controversy. Remember the Britain’s Magical Waterland that tried to re-describe Norfolk to attract more visitors? 

So is sailing close to the ethical wind justifiable in order to sell more stuff? The advertising standards authority clearly don’t think so. 

What do you think? Is any publicity good publicity or should a compelling offer of value be able to speak for itself? 

In the end maybe it’s all down to the ASA suffering from Coulrophobia ?

#fearofclowns #clowns

Welcome to the era of the Schizophrenic University 

Jo Johnson wants universities to pay more attention to teaching and aims to do this through the Teaching Excellence Framework. 

This ambition is based on certain assumptions such as most universities favour research rather than teaching. This is a flawed assumption. Some universities – often the post ’92 variety have always had a reputation for excellent teaching and drawn from the wisdom and experiences of seasoned professionals rather than the idealistic musings of early career researchers.

According to The Guardian today this will lead to universities having to choose between Research or Teaching or suffer from what business strategist Michael Porter has always advised against – being stuck in the middle. 

This middle ground is a recipe for organisational psychosis with the conditions being created for academic schizophrenia – ‘am I a researcher or an educator – how can I reconcile two related yet utterly contrasting skill sets’?

And yet this middle ground is exactly what some universities are trying to straddle and generating a deep psychological imbalance in the very people who originate and deliver value – the individual academic. 

The supreme irony is that the discourse of marketing which so many university managers have bought into belies there complete lack of strategic marketing competence. 

The era of the schizophrenic university is upon us. Symptomised by incoherent value propositions, confused competitive positioning, and an impoverished grasp of the value definition, creation and delivery. 

#university #academic

How do you rate your customer’s behaviour?

We are all familiar with supplier ratings but a powerful new trend is emerging that focusses on driving better customer behaviour.

Marketing Week has published a fascinating case study on Uber and Airnb titled Creating the 5 star customer.

Petya Pavlova consumer analyst at the Future Foundation forecasts that public rating of customers by suppliers is an increasing trend. 

The interesting thing for me about this is the lag that exists in the public sector in relation to  current marketing thinking and practice. 

Having bought into the idea of customer satisfaction measurement about 25 years after the rest of the planet it seems they will continue to play catch up with cutting edge marketing ideas.

The dominant discourse in higher ed’ for example is that students are customers. The unintended side effect of using this metaphor is that some students think this gives them immunity for taking responsibility for their own learning. This in turn can generate hyper critical customer feedback because they feel they weren’t ‘taught’ adequately which in some cases amounts to personal attacks on the reputation and personality of tutors. There is no opportunity to feedback to students how their ‘in class’ attitudes and behaviours are perceived by academics. 

The notion of customer rating changes that.

Customer rating by suppliers is current and resonates with the very latest academic thinking about co-creation of value (Vargo and Lusch 2004 etc) Value Appropriation, the idea that value is not just created to produce customer value but for all stakeholders including the supplier (Corsaro 2014) and the absurdity of unfettered customer centricity (Gummesson 2008).

What this means is that measurement is a two way street. If you are a bad payer, abusive, petulant, unforgiving, nasty and vindictive then you will get a customer rating profile that reflects your poor behaviour. That said:

This isn’t just about keeping tabs on customers. It’s a hallmark of many industries that rely on mutual trust and respect. Saying to customers “we need you to behave well” is actually pretty similar to saying “we need you”.’ The article claims. 

What I find especially interesting is that we are entering a world where:

‘Just like banks have access to your credit score, we reckon brands will have access to your Personality Score’

I for one am certainly all for this.

Time for uncritical marketing to #stfu

This article in Times Higher today by a PhD early career researcher really brings home the reach of the classic marketing management discourse set in motion by Sydney Levy, Ted Levitt and Philip Kotler.

This discourse is epitomised in Kotler’s 1972 article The Generic Concept of Marketing – Kotler, P (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54
If ever there was a selling job it is this. What it has produced is an army of neophytes who have bought into the idea of market orientation lock stock and barrel, who evangelise its principles and sneer at those who ‘don’t get’ marketing’s apparently obvious revelations about how business should be done. 

Now marketing has reached higher education and the idea of the student as customer reigns supreme. This is an idiotic idea. 

Don’t misunderstand me, of course students deserve good service but casting them as the arbiters of the educational value of higher education is ludicrous. 

Imagine I had an interest in space science and I attended a course by Professor Brian Cox. In this course he introduced concepts and ideas I struggled to understand such as the uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics and relativity. I then claim that it is Professor Cox’s poor teaching is unstructured and disorganised and the reason I am not learning. It’s all his fault I don’t understand the subject and I’m paying him to teach me. 

The problems with this view are firstly it is assumed that an education is a product that is given to the consumer and the value is embedded in the product rather than co-created at the point of delivery (Vargo and Lusch 2004) and that secondly higher education is simply a 3 year extension of secondary /high school. The identity of ‘student’ is far more complex that re-describing them as a consumer. 

The marketing assumptions driving the current policy and management attitude to higher education are flawed because the idea of higher education is to take ownership of one’s learning within a designated challenging and transformative framework devised by highly qualified and experienced professionals. It is not to consume the intellectual equivalent of a bar of chocolate.

The marketing concept is not all good news as the consequences for people in the article link above show. It is generating an attack on professionalism and encouraging a discourse of anti-intellectualism. 

And by anti-intellectualism I don’t mean making the abstract approachable I mean the suppression of the critical voice. In other words if you don’t agree students are customers you are out of touch and possibly weird.

Work by Zaltman revealed that marketing is metaphorically seen as a manipulative and ‘noisy neighbour’. Writing by Saren, Brownlie, Hackley and Tadjewski show marketing to be a force for unfettered consumerism and materialism. 

Philosophically (and not many marketing neophytes know this) it is base on a Postivist epistemology that deliberately airbrushes human beings out of the picture in favour of objective metrics. All that matters is the numbers. All that matters is consumer satisfaction. All that matters is the survival of uncritical marketing.

I think it’s time to push back. I think it’s time to talk about where the value is for all stakeholders not just the consumer. I think it’s time for uncritical marketing to #stfu

New Critical Event Customer Segment Discovered 

Silver Splitters are set become the latest happy hunting ground for marketing teams. The BBC’s Ruth Alexander explains that it is often a realisation that people have fallen out of love or were never really in love in the first place when they reach level 60 of the game of life.

One of the triggers is meeting someone else that has similar interests. There is plenty of scope for that with people who are retired. Walking clubs, art societies, book reading circles. It all falls in the bag of propinquity – the affinity people have when they spend time together on common projects.

So what will marketing people dream up? Romantic holidays to Split no doubt! A new range of celebration cards with tear along perforated sides? What about a new type of party event – The Splittering? Who knows but once the marketeers use big data to track your marital status and age watch out for junk mail dropping through the letterbox soon.

Satisfaction is too Simplistic

There should be no surprises in the findings of researchers at the London School of Economics into the impact of the National Student Survey on student course and university selection.

It seems that students choose their university and course based on broader reputational ranking reviews such as those like the Times University Guide and other contextual factors rather NSS scores alone. 

What I would like to suggest here is that students are making a value judgement rather than simply a satisfaction assessment. 

Prospective students are imagining the future value of their course, being more concerned with what it will do for them rather than making their decision based on the particulars of an historic service experience. 

What this means is that even if a customer feels that something is unsatisfactory it does not necessarily mean it lacks value. 

Thus, studying long and hard and not having tutor contact on tap might not give a sense of satisfaction but the outcome can have huge value for the student.

Similarly dealing with ambiguity and being left to work things out for yourself might be deeply unsettling and disorientating and therefore could seem very unsatisfactory. However the value the student gains in seeing it through is potentially enormous.

Interestingly the question of why anyone would base their personal value judgment on the satisfaction assessment of others alone is apparently not considered by ‘student satisfaction evangelists’ who portray satisfaction as the only game in town.

One of the big problems with using service satisfaction as a form of competitive comparison is that students typically only experience one degree course at one university at a time. There is no way for them to personally compare different experiences. 

Without some measure of satisfaction I realise that this could lead universities to act ‘as if’ they were no worse than anyone else and lapse into complacency. Nevertheless satisfaction scores can never be a true sense of competitive comparison unless a student can compare like for like experiences.

Recently I wrote an extensive literature review on the notion of customer value. Part of it covered the problematic nature of customer ‘satisfaction’. Here is the section:

Satisfaction versus Value

Woodruff (1997) points out that a particular difficulty in defining and determining the nature of value is that it is closely associated with other equally ambiguous terms such as utility, worth quality, satisfaction and benefits. 

Scholars have identified a particular problem concerning the need to clearly distinguish between the ideas of customer satisfaction and customer value. 

Eggert and Ulaga (2002) in their summary of conceptual differences between satisfaction and customer perceived value explain that satisfaction is a broadly affective construct restricted to a particular suppliers offer whereas value is a cognitive construct based on perceptions that includes a judgement of a range of competitor offers.

The idea of customer satisfaction management (CSM) is acknowledged by authors as a key contributory area to the development of thinking on customer value (Woodruff 1997, Payne and Holt 1999, 2001). 

Nevertheless CSM is criticised on several counts (Cronin and Taylor 1992, Day and Crask 2000) which Salamonson, Aberg and Alwood (2012:146) summarise as the distinction that:

‘satisfaction can only be assessed after consumption, while value is possible to evaluate before, during and after consumption.’  

The implication here is that value judgements can be anticipated and they can change over time. 

Woodruff (1997) in particular acknowledges the heritage of satisfaction measurement in the quality movement and its aspiration to bring the ‘voice of the customer’ (Akao 1990, Bharadwaj, Nevin and Wallman 2012) into the organisation however Woodruff concludes that problems occur with the choice of satisfaction metrics when they are internally originated, and focussed on product attributes rather than ‘backed up with in- depth learning about customer value’ including affective components of value.

Methodologically CSM survey instruments such as SERVQUAL Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1988) are criticised for relying on expectancy/disconfirmation models that measure a post purchase evaluation and affective response to the product or service experience in order to determine key buying criteria rather than understanding what it is that customer’s value prior to purchase (Oliver 1992). 

Furthermore Patterson and Spreng (1997:420) also point out that models of satisfaction up to that date rarely consider the role of perceived value with the notable exceptions of Liljander, (1994) and Liljander and Strandvik (1995) observing that whilst:

‘most satisfaction models incorporate benefits (via a measure of performance), they ignore any sacrifice component.’  

There is therefore a clear consensus amongst academics that the determination of customer value needs to account for facets and levels of perceived value that are frequently portrayed as the more abstract levels of hierarchical models and that there are time related factors that influence how value is judged.

Satisfaction metrics may have a use but believing them to be entirely indicative of the value of a product or service shows an impoverished understanding of contemporary marketing theory and the intuitions of seasoned practioners in commercial practice.



3 Types of Brand Lie

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones tell us in their recent HBR blog article Volkswagen and the end of corporate spin that the world has changed and that leaders need a new type of honesty that research for their new book (which they are subtly promoting btw!) tells them is Radical Honesty.

Interesting they didn’t tell us that this was their intention at the top of the article or in the title!

Imagine if the title read….Promoting our new book about Radical Honesty.

Radical Honesty they suggest  is amongst other things proactive, speedy and candid and in particular surprises people because the organisation is telling the truth. 

All of this is needed they say to create a trusted authentic brand.

Now I wonder why we need a new type of honesty? You are either honest or you are not. The things that differ are the types of lies not honesty.

Well it’s the classic marketing ruse isn’t it? Being sold something we didn’t know we actually needed. Radical Honesty? I didn’t realise I needed that …blimey the world has changed and I could be left behind  I’d better get one!   

So I suggest it’s in the lies not honesty where the difference is situated. There are 3 types of lies. Blatant untruths, such as buy this face cream and you will stop aging, lying by omission, such as we have met the emissions target but cheated with a gadget,  little white lies, you thought this was leading brand in the taste test but I swapped them. 

It seems Radical Honesty is used to address the second type of lie. The cover up, the biased emphasis on only the good stuff. What we commonly call Spin. 

There are then some tips for marketing communications managers brought up to fib for their brands on how to achieve the new norm and become Radically Honest. Basically use every channel you have, tell it warts and all and repeat. 

No wonder if Fibbing was the old norm that critical marketing writers like Chris Hackley say marketing has earned a reputation for being mendacious. 

Nothing new then to add to what my colleague Simon Kelly at Sheffield Business School hasn’t said before ‘you can’t put lipstick on a pig’ to disguise the fact it is still a pig.

Similarly you can’t ‘re-describe’ honesty to overcome the fact that a lie is a lie. 


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