March 24, 2014
Issue No. 59

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The dumbing down of marketing


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The dumbing down of marketing
‘Content creation isn’t for everybody; And that’s OK’

By Tim Coco
President and chief executive officer

Home Depot promises, “You can do it. We can help.” That’s the way of the world today. In marketing, however, the seemingly fun and economical do-it-yourself route usually leads to less than optimal results.

Microsoft Office gives amateurs some basic design tools, online libraries provide low-cost graphics and website templates promise a “professional look.” Despite fast computers, DIY software and overconfident employees, marketing failures are easily traced to items that don’t come in the box. Most of you know this, but this article gives you ammunition when dealing with bosses or self-designated “creative” coworkers.

“What separates the best from the rest is what you do with the tools, not the tools themselves. It’s always been this way, of course, it just seems to be more-easily forgotten these days. Computers, software, platforms and the like are all part of the same thing—they are a means to an end, not the end in and of themselves. Producing amazing work is really where our focus should be, and while tools and the other things may help you get there, they will not auto-magically produce good work any more than a paintbrush will produce the Mona Lisa; or a pen will write a Shakespearean sonnet,” says Paul Biedermann, a New York-based creative director. “And believe me, any illusion of slickness is quickly disregarded as run-of-the-mill by most people and brushed aside as completely amateurish by others who know better. Is that the impression you want to make? Is extremely average OK with you?” he adds.

It isn’t just marketing. Aiming to save a few bucks, many undertake home improvements themselves, go online to write their own wills and complete their own tax returns. Of course, the problems are not everyone is handy with a hammer and screwdriver, amateur wills are often contested and tax refunds are delayed because of stupid errors.

Here’s a list of what amateurs are missing

  • Training in the art of persuasion
  • A primer on proper English grammar and usage or journalism conventions
  • Recognition of the benefits of consistency and repetition
  • Fundamentals of design
  • Legal liability regarding the use of intellectual property
  • Understanding why a small graphic pulled from a website will never render
    well in print
  • Why Microsoft Office documents can’t be printed on conventional four-color printing presses

At a deeper level, most do-it-yourself marketing is completed by employees who are too close to the task to carry out aims, fail to commit to goals, possess no overarching strategy connecting various marketing projects and rely on fads, myths and “trendy” technology. Here is a list of common marketing and advertising failures by discipline:


  • Amateur design
  • “We” centered or overly promotional text, overlooking customer or clients needs
  • Low quality or unlicensed graphics
  • Poor site navigation technology
  • Incorrect file types
  • Pages that are incompatible with some Web browsers

Social media

  • Boring topics
  • Mistakenly posting personal rants on company feeds
  • Inadequate use of controls to prevent spam
  • Posts that portray company in negative light
  • Misleading information owing to an overly casual approach
  • Unethical messaging


  • Amateur design
  • “We” centered or overly promotional text, overlooking customer or clients needs
  • Low quality or unlicensed graphics
  • Incorrect use of, or too many different, fonts
  • Failure to understand how the eye travels through a page
  • Inability of office printers to “bleed” to paper edges
  • Misunderstanding of the fact laser toner or ink jet supplies
    cost more than offset printing
  • Files that cannot be professionally offset-printed
  • Incompatible color model (all Microsoft products use RGB model, while the print industry uses only CMYK)


  • Amateur design
  • “We” centered or overly promotional text, overlooking customer or clients needs
  • Low quality or unlicensed graphics
  • Poor or clichéd headlines
  • Failure to understand how the eye travels through a page
  • Logos on top
  • No call to action
  • Costly regulatory compliance errors
  • Unethical messaging
  • Over reliance on friends, family and co-workers as focus groups

Press releases

  • No “news hook”
  • Failure to adhere to AP style and other journalism conventions
  • Failure to follow inverted pyramid convention
  • A contact person who is unavailable to take press calls or fails to respond in a timely manner
  • Failure to include high-resolution photographs

As Biedermann says, “Nope. Content creation isn’t for everybody. And that’s OK.”

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