How low can marketers go…

As those who work in the marketing industry know, it is in dire need of good publicity. What’s the adage about a cobbler’s shoes always in need of repair?

We’re ranked at the bottom of the list of the most trusted professions, if we make the list at all. And the recent outing of long-suspected shonky media buying agencies, has only served to confirm what the general public perceive. I’ll have more on the media buying dishonesty soon.


One of the reasons I’ve not posted here for a couple of months, is that I’ve been tutoring on advertising to 150 university students – in the first and final years of their degrees. To put it in perspective, I’ve read and marked 350+ assignments and presentations submitted by enthusiastic young people wanting a career in our industry.

It gave me some time to reflect and I’m a tad concerned for their future, as I’m not sure how valuable their degrees will be if they want an honest career. Here’s why:

In 1994 I ran my first e-marketing seminar, including some guest speakers from different organisations. Little did I realise at the time, how indicative it was of the industry that was to evolve to the ‘digital marketing’ one we know today.

There was a presentation from a new joint venture called NineMSN. It was between Microsoft and the owners of a television network. A lady whom I knew from the marketing industry was suddenly their e-marketing expert, despite having no expertise. Mind you, nobody had any expertise. The presentation was slick and full of graphics, charts and outlandish predictions about the information superhighway – remember those buzzwords?

Because the industry was still in gestation, the audience of marketers was extremely sceptical towards her claims – much like today’s worried marketers and business owners are about social media and content marketing.

Trust me I work in digital marketing…








The most powerful presentation came from an email supplier who used a whiteboard to draw a diagram of how the internet worked and how computers connected to each other. He explained what it meant and the potential for what it meant. The audience lapped it up.

And the rest as they say, is history. A whole industry was spawned. The “how to be an instant digital marketing expert” industry. Anyone can be one – just use some digi-buzzwords, imply secret knowledge, claim all things that always worked no longer do and you’re away. Even better if you publish a book denouncing all things common sense and praising unproven new marketing secrets.

Or better still, just announce “I am a digital marketing expert” and you automatically are. No qualifications necessary. For a typical example of this faux expert, you need look no further than the latest digital flavour of the month – the alleged Content Marketing experts. They give charlatans integrity.







If it is so easy to get away with deceit to succeed, why should anyone bother with a marketing, advertising, public relations or communications degree? If all you need to do to fake expertise is Google “world’s best <insert subject> advertisement” and copy it for your brand or client, why study at all? If you can manufacture phony credentials by paying a slave in Asia or the subcontinent, to ghost write a book for you, so you can claim to be a “thought leader” why get a degree?

The digital era has sunk the marketing industry to a new low. I’ve never known marketers to be as cynical about agencies, suppliers and alleged expertise as they have in the first fifteen years of this century.






But I live in hope, as I suspect the digital tide is turning. There is a growing chorus of intelligent voices calling out the cyber hustlers for what they are. Marketers are realising you need to use lots of media channels and continually test lots of media channels to succeed. Those who dumped proven channels for solely digital ones, are doing U-turns and going back to their roots.

They’ve realised the various digital media are not all they’re claimed to be – results are revealing the truth. If only Australia Post had maintained its investment in direct mail, as this channel is killing it for serious marketers. And of course television is still the dominant media by massive figures.

So maybe knowing about marketing strategy, branding, the time-proven principles of creating outstanding advertising, media planning and all that tertiary-trained knowledge, gained at university, will be worth investing in for a marketing career?

It better be. I’m having a ball hanging out on campus and learning from tomorrow’s ad legends – they are enthusiastic about their future careers and I’d love them to have a worthwhile industry in which to work.






But they have to study first. Where’s that homework file…



Let’s connect:


  1. Enjoyed the post Malcolm…you have been missed!

    When you say “But they have to study first…” my question is what are they studying? If you were running the program, no doubt they would be in safe hands. But much of academia has become so detached from reality that I wonder about the content of “mainstream” marketing courses.

    • Thanks Kevin, there is a problem with academic courses being behind the times, but the degree courses do cover a lot of the original theory that still applies. Though I would love to make changes. About 8 years ago I completely rewrote the tertiary certificate course in Australia for TAFE to deliver online. The bureaucrats changed it to passive language and removed all rules of thumb and anything that used active language – very depressing. We never got the course off the ground,.

      • Out of interest, do you see direct response marketing being taught on any of these programs? As the only real “Scientific Advertising” I would have thought this would be a fertile ground for academia. I suspect not, of course, and I cast my mind back over 30 years when I had just finished my MBA. Browsing in the school bookstore I came across “How To Master The Art of Selling Anything” by Tom Hopkins and realised that I had heard nothing in the two years of the course about selling!

  2. Tom Hopkins, there’s a blast from the past, when I was at TNT in early 1980’s we were the first company to bring him to Australia. Am sure I have his full course on tape somewhere:) I rewrote the TAFE course with a direct response stream, the first ever but the academics wanted passive not active language and ruined it

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