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The “M” is for “Marketing”

July 9th, 2009 · 37 Comments

Your daily emetic:  Try to make it through this load of pap–a “manifesto” for “Generation M”—without bringing your lunch back up. A tiny sample:

Dear Old People Who Run the World,

My generation would like to break up with you.

Everyday, I see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. I think we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, lazy “business.” We want small, responsive, micro-scale commerce.

You turned politics into a dirty word. We want authentic, deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism. We want an economics that makes sense for people — not just banks.

You wanted shareholder value — built by tough-guy CEOs. We want real value, built by people with character, dignity, and courage.

You wanted EVIL, we want GOOD! You wanted A SHARP STICK IN THE EYE, we want HUGS. You wanted ALLIGATORS, we want PUPPIES! Nowhere in this protracted wankfest will you find a single idea—to the extent these shallow platitudes count as “ideas”—that couldn’t have been cribbed from a random issue of Utne Reader 15 years ago. Have you heard microfinance is really neat? No fooling! But wait, there’s more: Sometimes, companies try to sell you crap that won’t really make you happy. Also, for God’s sake, when you’re a 30-something MBA, adopting the pose of a spokesman for a new generation telling the “old people” how it is positively reeks of mid-life crisis.

So one more tedious collection of cliches trying to pass as some kind of generational insight; big deal. Browse over to author Umair Haque’s Havas Media Lab and you’ll find quite a lot more of the same: Breathless announcements that the Past is Behind Us and we can Break the Tired Old Rules to create a future where Rising Tides Lift All Boats, if only we repeat the word “authentic” enough times. Pages upon pages of it, all utterly insubstantial—there’s no there there. It’s easy to make fun of, but why bother?   Well, Havas Media Lab is a spinoff of the global communications firm Havas, the world’s sixth largest (or, if you prefer, “big, fat, laziest”) ad agency. You’ll find Havas clients like Nike and Wal-Mart occasionally name-checked on lists of good-guy innovators alongside more obviously community-centric businesses like Etsy. So if you notice that Haque’s “manifesto” sounds more like a marketing spiel than any sort of genuine reform program or statement of substantive principles—that’s because it is.

In fact, it’s a perfect example of one of the more pernicious products of the Bad Old Capitalism it pretends to supersede—Debordian spectacle for the entrepreneurial class. A handful of genuinely innovative business practices—for certain purposes, at any rate—are planted in horseshit, watered with marketing jargon, and voila, Capitalism 2.0 springs forth and blossoms. There are vague hints that this will somehow produce well-functioning capital markets that aren’t as susceptible to bubbles and crashes, but if there’s an actual model for enterprises above the scale of the village fruit stand, I’m missing it. But of course, that’s not Havas’ wheelhouse—their job is to bundle and peddle those elements of true novelty as a kind of meta lifestyle brand, with which to sell their clients to you, and themselves to new clients. And it’s a hell of a pitch: Why settle for making consumers crave the self-image you’re selling when you can make them dependent on you for Authentic Community?

Bonus points for chutzpah: If you point out that they’re not actually, you know, saying anything, these shameless con artists will accuse you of cynicism. I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more cynical than gussying up the 21st century equivalent of the Burger King Kids Club as a “movement,” but I’m funny like that.

Addendum: Jesus, the guy’s a serial offender: I don’t remember the last time I read something quite as brazenly disconnected from reality as this  column—and I read The Weekly Standard.  Apparently the formula is to say something  hilariously wrong, pepper it with seven or eight instances of the word “radical” and some handwaving about “tired old ways of thinking,” and hope that some CEO with a consulting budget to burn confuses the transparent falsehood of your thesis for “out of the box” thinking. The central claims are that Apple (Apple!) is a model of openness—sorry “radical” openness—and that the “closed” nature of Facebook is a liability.  He’s either an utter fraud or a brilliant performance artist.

Tags: Economics · Journalism & the Media


       

 

37 responses so far ↓

  • 1 LP // Jul 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Most young adults go through a phase (often in college) where they assert their independence by announcing that their parents had it all wrong, and *they’re* going to do it all differently, and everything will be different *then*. Some people seem to feel the urge to universalize this burgeoning sense of liberation, and our cultural obsession with generationalism provides a handy outlet. I think we can assume that this goes back to the beginning of written communication (along with polemics written by the middle-aged on how everything has just gone to shit since the days when they were young).

  • 2 Doug // Jul 9, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I still want alligators. Maybe they’re onto something.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Jul 9, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    LP-
    Right, but this guy’s at least our age, probably a bit older. It’s not adolescent rebellion, it’s consulting snake-oil. Five years ago he’d have called it a Paradigm Shift.

  • 4 umair // Jul 9, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    please note that my blog at harvard business is my personal blog.

    i think my body of work speaks for itself. anyone can check out numerous posts discussing the topics above (in much greater detail than julian suggests) at the link above, and at:

    http://www.bubblegeneration.com

    a good starting point is the new economics of media ppt.

    thanks for the comment.

    umair

  • 5 Nathan // Jul 9, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    umair: Is the “shift” key really that much of a burden?

  • 6 Julian Sanchez // Jul 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Obviously, you’re locked into yesterday’s tired old typographic conventions.

  • 7 RickRussellTX // Jul 9, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    “Markets are strategically radical: once the basis of competition has been altered, an economic tsunami is unleashed, often unstoppable.”

    Holy crap! Man the lifeboats… I, wait, what is he saying again?

    But seriously, I think you need to give him enough credit to take his statements in context. When he’s talking about the App Store, he’s talking about the market *for mobile telephone applications*. In that sense, Apple has taken a tightly closed market and opened it up.

    Oh, I know, you downloaded that mortgage calculator for your Blackberry and you’re thinking, “whaddya mean, closed up?”

    I tried to explain how to install a Blackberry app to the GM of our IT division yesterday and I might as well have been explaining how to calculate the insertion orbit for a moon launch.

    The App Store, on the other hand, doesn’t even require a computer. Just search, browse, select.

    In addition, Apple has set the bar for entry very low (low SDK cost, low programming difficulty) and offered an extremely appealing margin for the programmer (70% of revenue).

    All they ask in return is, hey, don’t program something that’s gonna get us in trouble with parents and don’t f*ck around with AT&T’s network. They get some of those judgments dead wrong, sure, but it’s because those occasional misfires are contrary to the rest of the system that anybody complains at all. If it were a typical phone/network provider, rejection would be as common as salt.

    On the other hand, consider the torturous difficulty of programming, promoting and selling an app on the Blackberry:

    http://www.versatilemonkey.com/story.html

    Then think about all the other zillions of phones out there that are even *less* tractable.

    By comparison, the iPhone is an open book.

  • 8 Christopher Monnier // Jul 9, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    The language that Umair uses is flowery and over-the-top, but I think his essay about Apple vs. Facebook does touch on an interesting point about the respective merits of the “pay to play” vs. “subsidized by ads” business models. The point has been raised by others, including 37 Signals (http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/1615-how-did-the-web-lose-faith-in-charging-for-stuff) and Garrick Van Buren (http://blog.cullect.com/archive/free-for-most), and I think there’s a good debate to be had over which business model is appropriate in which context in order to most effectively foster value-added innovation.

  • 9 Positive Liberty » I Want a Sharp Stick in the Eye, Dammit! // Jul 10, 2009 at 9:05 am

    […] Julian Sanchez, at his usual best: You wanted EVIL, we want GOOD! You wanted A SHARP STICK IN THE EYE, we want HUGS. You wanted ALLIGATORS, we want PUPPIES! Nowhere in this protracted wankfest will you find a single idea—to the extent these shallow platitudes count as “ideas”—that couldn’t have been cribbed from a random issue of Utne Reader 15 years ago. Have you heard microfinance is really neat? No fooling! But wait, there’s more: Sometimes, companies try to sell you crap that won’t really make you happy. […]

  • 10 Jake Kaldenbaugh // Jul 10, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Just as it may be amusing to watch someone associated with an advertising company discuss next-generation strategy, it’s more amusing watching a journalist try and critique it. As a professional that actually develops and executes strategy, I believe that Umair’s observations have their grounding in a valid shift in market dynamics which may have big implications for organizational structures.
    Umair’s pronouncements can be inflammatory and difficult to reconcile with traditional views, but most revolutionary shifts have these characteristics. I initially reacted to much of his ideas in the same way; partially because I was frustrated with the lack of connection to the traditional orthodoxy. I was forced to deeply investigate his ideas and create my own understanding before I allowed myself to be open to the underlying meaning of his concepts.
    While not all of the data is in, my observations support many of his assertions. I think we’ll start to see more support from the traditional sciences as well. For instance, Daniel Ariely’s economic work on behavioral influences on finance are very supportive of certain Umair constructs. Additionally, there is quite a bit of discussion in the financial world about the inadequacy of MPT and other models which currently form the basis for most of economic and financial theory.
    I wouldn’t let your fervent association with traditional capitalism models cloud your ability to assess new ideas even if they are expressed in ways you find distasteful. Do some work and you might find the value in his work. Certainly adds more to conversation than a typical right-wing attempt at humiliation of topic which isn’t understood.

  • 11 Elizabeth // Jul 10, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Jake: “I wouldn’t let your fervent association with traditional capitalism models cloud your ability to assess new ideas even if they are expressed in ways you find distasteful.”

    What ideas??? It’s not that Umair’s pronouncements are “inflammatory” or “difficult to reconcile with traditional views”—as Julian points out, the Utne Reader 15 years ago phenomenon—it’s that he is actually saying nothing behind a lot of gussed up marketing drivel.

  • 12 This Generational Angst Paid for by Nike « Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:25 am

    […] who just couldn’t or wouldn’t see the, like, utter revolutionariness of his ideas.  So Julian Sanchez did a little digging, and … Browse over to author Umair Haque’s Havas Media Lab and you’ll find quite a lot […]

  • 13 Julian Sanchez // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Christopher-

    Having now looked at a modest sampling of his writing, I think this one fits the general pattern, which is that buried under all the buzz and bullshit, there is usually the kernel of a valid (though seldom novel) point botched in application to the specific subject. The consistent impression is of someone who’s terribly excited about having just skimmed–but not quite grokked–something Yochai Benkler wrote seven years ago.

    Anyway, there is, of course, every reason to discuss which revenue models are best suited to which contexts, but this is not exactly aided by Haque’s penchant for writing about these things after the manner of a fashion columnist cataloging what’s out and in for the season.

    Jake- Again, the idea that there are ideas here that are actually new or difficult is one of Haque’s most irritating affectations. Dan Kanheman got a Nobel Prize *seven years ago*; if you’re only just discovering behavioral economics now, I guess I can see why you might think Haque is saying something clever, but the rest of us aren’t obliged to go along.

  • 14 Brian Van // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    You can call it drivel and you can make allegations of ulterior motives… but, maybe his bigger point is that many companies are indeed stuck in business models that worked yesterday and not today. Take GM and Chrysler, for example. The management moves they are making today are painful, but should have been made years ago – except the upper management of those companies didn’t want to oversee any changes too uncomfortable or weak-looking, so they basically held onto most of their old business model (including terrible strategic mistakes) until they were fired by the government after bailout. And aren’t ad firms still heavily pushing content-less branding campaigns in traditional MSM markets… because that’s what makes them the most money upfront? Not every element of the economy is “new”, but we have already figured out better ways of doing things, and most of America is being held back by existing corporate interests. (The world may be farther along than us because we’ve allowed our large firms to take more control of the markets, meaning less business or consumer innovation gets through) In many cases the only way to change this is to have a new line of business or fresh wave of companies push out the old ones. Death and rebirth. I think that’s a valid point here, and you’re too smart of a writer to get hung up on the jargon alone.

  • 15 Jake Kaldenbaugh // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Julian, as a CFA who studied behavioral economics in the early 90’s, it is not new to me in the slightest. I use Ariely because most of the public is finding out about the ideas today through his academic celebrity.
    But regardless of when someone learns of the idea, the point is those observations change foundational understanding of finance and economics. If you realize that the “state of the art” understanding of traditional market thinking is flawed, then it’s time to explore other ideas based on other fundamental assumptions.
    So you don’t have to go along, but it would be nice to see a critique based on the concepts rather than on superficial characteristics.

  • 16 MarkusR // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:42 am

    It does kind of remind me of the reverse case of “those darn kids these days”.

  • 17 Julian Sanchez // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Look, I don’t want to take issue with the underlying concepts if that just means ideas like “ubiquitous connectivity promises to dramatically extend the scope of peer production” or “behavioral economics might yield insights into how financial market regulation could be structured to disrupt toxic information cascades.” These things are true. The task of figuring out precisely what they mean is not aided by reduction to some crude old-stuff/new-stuff dichotomy that makes a sexy pitch for your consultancy.

  • 18 Derivative Dribble // Jul 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Julian,

    Outstanding post.

    Jake,

    Do you honestly believe that behavioral economics is the exclusive tool of “new business,” and not the tried and tested tool of the marketers of yore? Do you enjoy the occasional ice cold, refreshing glass of brown colored carbonated sugar water? Because I do, and I’m not particularly sure why that’s the case…

  • 19 James Hanley // Jul 10, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    You can call it drivel and you can make allegations of ulterior motives… but, maybe his bigger point is that many companies are indeed stuck in business models that worked yesterday and not today.

    Yes, Brian, and that’s a new thought…how? And if that tired old cliche is indeed all he’s saying, why couldn’t he say it as simply and elegantly as you just did?

    Julian, great post. First time visitor, but I love your writing style.

  • 20 LP // Jul 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    “These things are true. The task of figuring out precisely what they mean is not aided by reduction to some crude old-stuff/new-stuff dichotomy that makes a sexy pitch for your consultancy.”

    That’s true as far as it goes, but speaking as a marketing person, I can say that the ‘old stuff/new-stuff’ breakdown goes a long way towards summarizing complex concepts to business folks who haven’t been paying attention at the same level as we have. (All marketers eventually become performance artists.) I guess Haque’s big mistake here was posting some reasonably good marketing collateral to a blog ostensibly providing serious commentary.

  • 21 RickRussellTX // Jul 10, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    “The world may be farther along than us because we’ve allowed our large firms to take more control of the markets, meaning less business or consumer innovation gets through”

    Large firms come with large growth. Much of that growth comes from economies of scale and investments of capital which small firms cannot generate.

    I would go so far as to say that large firms are a *prerequisite* for business innovation (that is, a necessary but not sufficient condition), because there are a large range of innovations that are only practical at the level of high capital investment.

    Granted, that capital investment may be mismanaged, and examples like GM and Chrysler are on-point. That’s why I say it’s necessary but not sufficient.

    But I don’t think innovation is going to happen on the global stage without large investment, which by definition means large assets and “large firms”.

  • 22 Johnny Debacle // Jul 10, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    LP: “I guess Haque’s big mistake here was posting some reasonably good marketing collateral to a blog ostensibly providing serious commentary.”

    If THAT post from Umair is really “good marketing collateral,” then there is a really bad marketing loan that is going to be made.

  • 23 B. Kennedy // Jul 10, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Meet the new “Don’t trust anyone over 35,” same as the old “Don’t trust anyone over 35.”

  • 24 brgabriel // Jul 10, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Julian, great post…

    this guy’s writing reminds me a bit of Penelope Trunk’s stuff about Generation Y and how we are supposedly the new greatest generation. Ugh.

  • 25 links for 2009-07-10 « Overton’s Arrow // Jul 10, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    […] The “M” is for “Marketing” (tags: amusing funny culture age business) […]

  • 26 Generational Manifestos // Jul 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    […] have been cribbed from a random issue of Utne Reader 15 years ago. – Julian Sanchez, The “M” is for “Marketing” Change it had to come We knew it all along We were liberated from the fall that’s all But […]

  • 27 Nayagan // Jul 11, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Julian, as a truly emancipated capitalist, I must protest your profound misunderstanding of my esoteric malapropisms and other $3.75 words that I have spat out, ad nauseam, throughout a brilliant and meandering career fooling productive individuals into thinking that there is a qualitative analysis wand which can reveal and remove all obstacles before tender moral feet can find capitalist purchase on the slippery slopes of reality.

  • 28 crack // Jul 11, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I’m pretty sure he was resurrected with Jeff Jarvis’s brain and this is the only sort of stuff he can say now.

  • 29 Marbury // Jul 12, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    A brilliant post, although personally I think you were too easy on him.

  • 30 The Neo-Progressive Manifesto Prelude (or why Generation M must be remixed) | eaves.ca // Jul 13, 2009 at 11:21 am

    […] On Wednesday Umair Haque’s posted a Manifesto for Generation M. The post has received some praise and some serious criticism. […]

  • 31 Matt Frost // Jul 13, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Meanwhile, the Manifesto is magically morphing into a new mother lode of messianism.
    It’s being “open-sourced!”

    http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/haque/2009/07/manifesto_2.html

  • 32 Andrew Ator // Jul 14, 2009 at 2:05 am

    I have a theory on tribal warfare, network centric warfare, perception realty, guerrilla warfare, the macropolypse, and how this all translates into a micropolease as units form into larger, stronger, de-centralized, conglomerates as expeditionary workers find newer, more efficient methods for connecting company to consumer – eliminating needless middlemen between anglers and suckers.

    Anyway, I just wanted to throw around a lot of pointless buzzwords that mean absolutely nothing when you break them down and analyze their meaning. Though, if someone would like to pay me to do that in front of an audience I’d love talk with you and give your products glowing reviews.

  • 33 ToddSeavey.com » Blog Archive » Panarcho-Capitalists, Tradicals, and More “Conservatism for Punks” // Jul 15, 2009 at 8:02 am

    […] automatically want that — but he is admirably wary of phony mediation in another recent post, hilariously denouncing the recent “Generation M” pseudo-manifesto, which reminds me more than a little of the business-advice guru Seth Godin I briefly worked for in […]

  • 34 Barry // Jul 15, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I recently purchased a copy of the Harvard Business Review; in it the editor thought that blaming MBA’s for the Wall St collapse was unfair.

    I tossed it, and vowed to never buy their HBS BS again.

    Given people like this, and umair, and Larry “I helped crash the system, watch me get promoted to corrupt it further” Summers, I’m now at the stage where I seriously support shutting down parts of Harvard. The B-School and Econ Propaganda Dept first.

  • 35 Sandbox » Blog Archive » Weekly inspiration #7: No change and nerd fun // Sep 6, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    […] or not? Julian Sanchez pokes fun at the ridiculous rhetoric of some self-appointed spokespeople for the “young […]

  • 36 Kelsey Machtley // Mar 3, 2012 at 8:57 pm

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  • 37 Giuseppe Castenanos // Jun 22, 2012 at 10:26 am

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