How the fake marketers used virtue signals to establish credibility…

If you work in marketing you know that thanks to the internet and digital technology, the whole world has changed spectacularly. Human DNA has completely morphed. As consumers, we humans have suddenly stopped our centuries-old behaviour and now act entirely differently in every way, particularly when it comes to buying stuff.

Not only that, but everything that ever worked in marketing prior to last week, no longer works today. “Marketing has changed forever” is the gospel according to the fake marketers.

It’s the end of marketing as we know it…

And these fake marketers have successfully used virtue signals to con the marketing industry into believing this gospel. Every week they claim there are new rules for everything marketing. Apparently, these new rules are so “disruptive”, that only those in the secret priesthood of fake marketers, possess the unique knowledge to understand them. Like the weavers of the Emperor’s new clothes, they claim you’re unfit as a marketer if you can’t see what they can.

The virtue signallers play on FOMO and hide behind a bizzare myth that because this new marketing is done via computers, then “traditional marketers” have no idea how it works. Only the fake marketers masquerading as digital marketers can deliver the future of marketing. So roll up, roll up and get your digital snake oil, before you go out of business.

In case you’re curious, Virtue Signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group.

In the marketing world, virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of marketing myths and B.S. done primarily with the intent of faking marketing expertise to enhance standing within the marketing industry.

Look over here, a shiny new marketing widget

The virtue signals come in numerous forms, but mainly they are fake claims, silly buzzwords, fake economies and fabricated expertise. You hear the signals in meetings and seminars, and read them in blogs, articles and social channels. One common element among the virtue signallers is their complete lack of real marketing expertise. They just shovel virtue signals in the hope of manufacturing some credibility and fertilising their reputations.

Fertilising my reputation with virtue signals

These are typical of the fake claims:

  • There are new rules for marketing and PR
  • Customers want conversations with brands
  • Customers don’t want to be sold to
  • Selling is dead
  • Traditional media no longer work
  • Personas have replaced target audience
  • Brand advertising is dead and so are advertising agencies
  • Marketing automation is the future of all customer communications
  • QR codes, VR, AI, Pokemon Go, <insert latest fad> will change everything – forever
  • Content is king (and queen)
  • Every sale in the world begins with a search
  • 157% of all sales are online

The jargon monkeys love their buzzwords and acronyms. You’ll know many of them like these:

  • Customer engagement/experience/journey
  • Brand conversations
  • Disruptive technology
  • Reach out
  • Ideation
  • Transparency
  • Personas
  • Data-driven marketing
  • Contextual marketing
  • Omni-channel marketing
  • <insert label> marketing
  • Growth hacking
  • Owned, earned and paid media
  • OMG the list goes on, and on, and on…

Even more shady are the whole new economies that are allegedly revolutionising marketing:

  • the social economy
  • the engagement economy
  • the attention economy
  • the belief economy
  • the sharing economy
  • the purpose economy
  • the content economy
  • the influencer economy
  • the subscription economy

The only economies these support, are the financial economies of each author who manufactured the economic term and published a book to fake legitimacy. By playing on FOMO they charge a fortune for alleged insights into their secret economic sauce, while doing the rounds of the marketing industry and seminar circuit sprouting their virtue signals.

Then I told him the future of marketing is the virtue signalling economy…

Finally, there is the thought leader industry – because that’s what it is, an industry. There’s almost no legitimate thought leadership. Hire a virtual assistant/slave in a third-world country to ghost write a book, pay an SEO expert to own a few related keywords, and publish an article to stake your claim to expertise.

Some even label themselves some kind of influencer such as Linkfluencer, Socialfluencer and the like. I attended a fluencer’s webinar and couldn’t believe the dross being peddled. Apparently these are the 3 keys to success on LinkedIn:

  • Connect with lots of people
  • Connect with journalists
  • Publish stuff and send it to your contacts

The “fluencer” running the event thought it was an amazing achievement to be published in online business press – the machine that demands content to keep itself fresh. Any marketer worth their salt is regularly published in business press, thanks to their PR company, or the sheer fact they are a legitimate expert. Being in the media is standard operating procedure for marketers. So to get excited because your article gets a run, is at best sad and really quite naive.

Another fluencer shared their secret to becoming an influencer on LinkedIn. Before you post an article, invite all your contacts to like and share your article immediately it is posted. This will fool the algorithm into thinking your article is popular and help improve your influencer standing within LinkedIn. Sad but true. To be seen as an influencer you have to get colleagues to help you scam the system.

Why not just be bloody good at your job and share legitimate expertise, based on years of real experience? Or possibly just tell the truth?

Maybe they should be called “effluencers“?

Luckily there are still some of us living in the real world and we know the opposite of these virtue signals is true. Just look at the disgrace the digital media industry has become. The fake numbers supplied by Facecrook, Google, You Tube, Instagram and Twitter have stunned marketers who have spent valuable shareholder’s, or their own funds, in these channels.

So to save you from virtue signal confusion, here are some facts:

  • Technology has changed, people haven’t.
  • Technology means we have new order forms for buying stuff – on apps and websites.
  • We have been ordering goods remotely and having them delivered to our home or workplace, since the invention of mail-order in the 18th century. So remote ordering on a computer is simply evolution.
  • People buy emotionally and justify rationally. That’s why brand positioning is so important. Technology has almost zero influence on why/what people buy.
  • Advertising is alive and well and still one of the best ways to build brand value.
  • People love being sold to, it’s known as good customer service. But people hate lousy salespeople, so fire your bad salespeople and hire good ones.
  • Replacing humans with computers and bots can often hinder, not help the sales process or customer service experience. People prefer to deal with people.
  • Marketing automation only works if humans monitor it constantly.
  • Customers don’t care about brands like marketers do, they have more important things to do with their time.
  • People don’t plan a customer journey when they go shopping.
  • You cannot predict when people will buy, which is why you need to constantly be marketing to everyone in your market.
  • The traditional channels work exceptionally well. While some are declining in reach, their audiences are very dedicated.
  • There is a reason it’s called social media, not business media. And what media channel isn’t social? Ever heard of the social pages?
  • Likes, follows, shares et al are not measures of marketing success.
  • Digital-first can mean sales-last. You need to test digital channels and be brave enough to not use them if they don’t work. Don’t let FOMO and marketing fashion drive you.
  • If you call yourself a digital marketer, your only half a marketer (if that). You need to understand all the channels in the media spectrum to be called a marketer.

Curiously, not one consumer packaged goods brand has been launched successfully using digital media. All new brands, particularly online brands, rely heavily on old-fashioned advertising and public relations for sales, and to get third parties talking about them. Just watch any television show to view the plethora of ads for online travel, insurance and hotel aggregators, home delivery services, online financial services, Google, Apple, et al.

Unfortunately, just when the momentum to fix the problems created by the fake marketers is growing, it seems Google, P&G and Unilever’s management are becoming virtue signallers, rather than solving the problem. Check out Bob Hoffman’s expose here.

Though in a positive step, more companies are removing the word “digital” from marketing job titles. They’ve finally realised it’s all just marketing, regardless of channel or technology.

Here’s a signal to consider – spend your marketing budget as if it was your own money, promoting your business, so the profits feed your family. You’ll be amazed at how you start to ignore the virtue signals and focus your thinking on what really works in marketing.

Gotta go now. Am working on an AI blockchain cryptocurrency VR app. It’s going to revolutionise marketing forever…


  1. Oh the joy of the virtue signallers. These laughing boys with hammer head haircuts try to convince us that marketing has changed forever. As you mentioned, the new marketer is a’fluencer’ of one sort or another. In my view they are mainly full of effluence as they fountain their bullshit to mark their territory.

    Flag semaphore is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals. There, a nice simple explanation of an age old communication system that has worked for very well for a couple of hundred years.

    Fast forward a bit and see not only how the word, like many others in the English language, has been hijacked twice, once by the computer industry and then by the boys in shiny suits and T shirts.

    ‘A semaphore is a variable or abstract data type used to control access to a common resource by multiple processes in a concurrent system such as a multitasking operating system’.

    Fuck this. George Carlin covers it all

  2. Having retired a few years back after 45 years in the Advertising Agency world as a ‘circuit master’, I thank whoever you thank these days, for the years of fun , great ideas and the ‘KISS’ principal. This is the greatest lot of camouflagic (non word), shit I have ever read . Both content and intent !
    I cannot contribute , in any way, to this monolithic, irrelevent waffle , in any way shape or form !
    Off you go children , and remember what the great David Ogilvy , rightly stated ‘eventually someone has to create an Ad’ .

  3. Excellent article Malcolm – all the words I have in my head but never had the patience or articulation to write down. One of the unusual aspects of this fake marketing world is that, as individuals, marketing folk seem to recognise it. However, as a collective, these myths become propagated and exploited – to trawl an old cliche, “the emperor’s new clothes.” I do predict that, once the art of traditional marketing is long gone, it will be rediscovered and labelled as progressive thinking that delivers results! Thank you for posting this

  4. Loved the facts at the end, all of which I’ve experienced and–more importantly–many of which I’ve *tested* and found to be true recently. Your section on influencers had me laughing. I recently stumbled across an individual who proudly proclaimed themself a “marketing influencer.” As it was an industry I was unfamiliar with, I looked the person up. Turns out the experience was in going to conferences and “influencing.” Couldn’t find much evidence they’d ever sold anything.

    The funny part? This person served for a few years as CMO for–you guessed it–one of the jargon-spewing ad tech companies, famous for telling us how it was all different now.

  5. I’ve been reading your posts lately Malcolm, I really like them.
    What are your thoughts on agencies that describe themselves as “disruptive”? What are they trying to say?

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