I sometimes refer to the difference between Marketing being at the “front of the [business] process” and marketing being at the “end of the process.”

Marketing (with a capital M) at the front of the process is about assuming the voice of the customer and leading/partnering in the process of uncovering an opportunity, identifying a target audience, testing product-price-promotion, crafting messaging, etc. Then rigorously testing post-mortem with the goal of constant improvement and deeper insight, etc.  In other words: building a product and experience to meet the needs of the customer.

marketing (small m) at the end of the process is when a creator follows his own voice, and then lets the marketing team suggest whether the poster should be blue or off-blue.

Then there’s… not even being in the same room as the “process.” The director of Pixar’s new movie, Wall-E – a mostly-silent movie about robot love – was quoted in last Sunday’s New York Times as saying, “I never think about the audience. If someone gives me a marketing report, I thow it away.”

Well, gosh! How wholly satisfying for Pixar’s marketing team!

Look, this guy may be perfectly great to work with, and could well be one of those people that truly has the golden touch. The kind of gut that marketing people try to bottle. He did, after all, win an Oscar for a fishy little movie called Finding Nemo. And Wall-E is getting wonderful reviews.

And if we all waited around for market research to uncover a customer need, we’d be literally sitting in the dark and Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs would be bummed. I get it.

But we know these names because these people are visionaries. There are many, many more, however, with the same attitude sans the honeyed hunch. People who believe that thinking about the consumer would require an unattractive conversation about commerce, with all of the un-artistic factors that go along with it. This attitude is one of the reasons why so many movies/books/ideas fail. Artistic “vision” – no customer.

Most of my marketing friends have not had the experience of managing actual, living people as “brands.” What must that be like?

Do you remember when Tom Cruise fired longtime PR agent-to-the-stars Pat Kingsley, replaced her with his sister and proceeded to transform into a lunatic? Who can forget his assessment of psychiatry on Today or his couch-leaping action on Oprah? Of course, this means that Cruise had always been a nut and Kingsley had been earning her fee for a long, long time. And then there are the poor souls who manage Lindsey and Paris and Her and Him and…

Consider this. You are a marketer at P&G or Citibank. Things happen, sure, but you don’t have what must be a particular kind of fear that you will awake on any random morning to see your brand of paper towel or toothpaste humiliating itself at the Chateau Marmont, falling down in the street or driving drunk for the upteenth time without a license.  Since I began running sales and marketing for Time Warner’s DC Comics division, there hasn’t been a single night that I sat home, worrying that Superman was out with Catwoman, getting drunk and punching paparazzi.  (But that Green Lantern??  Don’t get me started!  I’m kidding) 

I thought of all this when right after my post on the wholesomeness of Disney’s High School Musical franchise the movies’ lead actress was forced to admit that a very nude photo of her on the Internet was indeed her in a “private” moment (I can’t bring myself to offer a link check out PerezHilton). Of course this is not Disney’s or her manager’s fault, and if Ms. Hudgens didn’t tell them they could not have known of the photo’s existence but what kind of antacid goes with this kind of moment? Oy.

So the next time you look at your lawn care product samples and long for excitement, imagine that you’ve changed careers and you’re happy. You and your product’s celebrity endorser, Clay Aiken, have worked so hard since his run on American Idol.  Sure, the constant questions about his personal life make it a little challenging to build him up as a teen girl heartthrob, but you just know that his huge talent will prevail. You lean over, give your Clay Aiken bobblehead doll one more tap on the head, and fall asleep.

Then you wake up and turn on the tv/open the newspaper/fire up the Internet. And at that very moment, Lawncare never. Looked. So. Good.


A teaser for Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics” blog in The New York Times today caught my eye: What do Freakonomics and “High School Musical” have in common? Levitt’s initial answer is that both efforts became surprise hits that had little reason for mainstream success.

[Sidebar: because he thought the movie was “shockingly awful,” Levitt ends with a bit of humor by hoping that his book and the Disney movie have actually nothing in common. That’s ok: Mr. Levitt is not a member of the target audience – his kids, however, are completely addicted.]

For you non-fans, High School Musical was a made-for-TV movie that debuted in January 2006 to an audience of 7.8 million viewers. It’s made about $100 million in DVD and soundtrack sales so far. HSM2 drew 17.2 million viewers on its first night last month, and the soundtrack is #1 on the Billboard chart. And if you really want to drive yourself crazy: IMDB claims the original soundtrack took five days to make…I wonder if the success of a franchise that is so innocent – that harkens back to a much more wholesome, optimistic time – seems remarkable to anyone else. The news and adult conversation today are replete with terrorism, recession, lead paint, political hopelessness and schadenfreude. My mother thinks we should move to Canada. What’s with all these happy, singing kids? Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the compelling book, Generations, and the new Millenials Rising, think they have the answer. Howe and Strauss show how today’s pre-teens and teens are distancing themselves from their parents and the recasting the very image of youth from downbeat to positive, altruistic and engaged. The evolution is most profound with younger kids, who are moving away from even older teens’ more violent and sexually-charged world. Over time, these 12-15 year olds will not only entirely recreate what it means to be young but could become our next “great generation,” a la Franklin D. Roosevelt, and bring society back to a more honorable time.

What does this mean for marketers? What product and service categories could take particular advantage of this phenomenal evolution, and how do we get from hip-hop here to a more fanciful future?