The rise of Bothism in marketing

When it comes to marketing, contradictions are good. As long as we can successfully employ Bothism, that is, and find a valid middle ground between extremes. At least, that was the message at this year’s David Ogilvy lecture in the UK, named after the highly influential pipe-smoking advertising tycoon and founder of the agency Ogilvy & Mather. 

It was a very apt theme to consider as Ogilvy’s colourful life itself was a series of wonderful surprises as he unwittingly gathered experience to launch his own advertising agency. Born in 1911, he was an Oxford University scholarship boy, chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris, a door-to-door AGA salesman, British Intelligence researcher, farmer in Pennsylvania’s Amish country…

But importantly Ogilvy always had a talent for selling things. He was so good at flogging AGAs, the huge and expensive cooking ranges, his employer asked him to write a sales manual. The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker went on to land him a job at a London agency, Mather & Crowther, and his career took off. Some 30 years later, Fortune magazine editors described it as the finest sales instruction manual ever written. 

He persuaded Mather & Crowther to send him to America and he went to work with George Gallup, the pioneer of survey sampling, statistical methods and inventor of the Gallup Poll. It had a serious impact on Ogilvy, who believed in both research and respect. “The customer is not a moron,” he advised way back in 1955, “she’s your wife.”

Ogilvy left quite a mark on the advertising world. “David was just about the most contradictory bugger you could even imagine,” recalled Rory Sutherland, Ted Talker and vice-chair of Ogilvy UK, when introducing the key speaker, Mark Ritson, brand consultant and all-round marketing guru. 

“He was a massive proponent of direct marketing and measurable scientific advertising, but he was also one of the first people to talk about long-term brand investment… He had one leg in the camp of USP, hammer it into their skulls type of advertising, but at the same time he would also say you cannot bore people into buying your product.”

Ritson developed the theme in his own inimitable way, peppering great insights and wordsmithery with more than a few well-chosen expletives. Marketing, he suggested, has become too polarised, too tribal and too oppositional.

Bothism is the future

The key is to engage in a new marketing philosophy called Bothism, a neologism Ritson borrowed from a tweet on his Twitter feed. This is his definition: “The rare capacity to not only see the value of both sides of the marketing story, but actively consider and then co-opt them into any subsequent marketing endeavour in an appropriate mix.” 

Let’s start with the long (building brands) and the short (sell sell sell) of it all. Many brands are split into two schools of thought and are often skewed too much one way, often to the almost complete exclusion of the alternative. Focus on the long term and you fail to convert the high levels of demand you have cleverly crafted. Your website is poor, perhaps, and you under-spend on digital marketing

Conversely, too short term and, despite your excellent conversion stats, you simply don’t have enough buyers in the pipeline. “Either way, to coin an economic term, you’re going to be f**ked eventually,” Ritson points out. 

To maximise ROI – among some other less obvious reasons – most companies are prone to focusing on the short term. A mistake, according to Ritson. “ROI is good for the short but sends you in the wrong direction for the long and that’s why it’s a shitty metric,” he warns, “but don’t tell everyone because some people are still in love with it.”

When two tribes go to work

It’s time to draw a close to the factions that have developed throughout corporate structures. The long-standing divide between qualitative versus (don’t the MBAs love it?) and quantitative research methods can happily co-exist. Start with qualitative work to find the best variables and then put them into a quantitative tool to yield more valuable data. One without the other is weaker.

We’ve had the decade-long custard-pie fight over ‘digital’ versus ‘traditional’ forms of communication. We remain completely bemused as to what these terms actually mean in 2020, given almost every form of communication from radio to outdoor is now demonstratively digital in delivery. And yet we have spent all this time pushing the benefits of one side and then defending the honour of the other.

The digital fiends need to stop trying to outdo the traditional defenders and incorporate both. “Twenty minutes with a decent data set and an open mind would demonstrate to any marketer that when you adopt a Bothist view of communications and add a dash of traditional media to the digital cake mix, the whole confection improves dramatically as a result,” Ritson writes in Marketing Week.

In reality, content is not on a clear-cut journey from print media to digital. Slow content is not an adversary of fast content. Content that is handy and useful can co-exist with content that is purely entertaining. Stories created in-house can complement those produced by an agency. It’s about looking at the big picture and creating the perfect blend over time.

“From now on, when presented with any marketing concept as superior to another, don’t reject that argument but try, mightily, to add the alternative view as well,” Ritson adds. “It’s about thinking Blur and Oasis, not one or the other. Arsenal and Spurs. Gin and tonic…” 

Forget binary thinking. It’s time to leap out of our silos and share skill sets. Synergies can be created telling our cohesive and compelling stories that can be told/shared/posted/seen/heard/liked across all platforms, from a 280-character tweet to 60-minute YouTube film and FB post to an authoritative long-form article. It’s the sort of thinking that would have appealed to David Ogilvy, who died in his French chateau in 1999. It’s easy to imagine him sitting back in his leather chair, nodding with approval and puffing happily on his pipe.

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