Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Stop Treating Us Like Morons

I'm thinking about this and why it caused such a stir in 1999 and continues to cause such a stir. It really has little to do with marketing and everything to do with power.

And, I think it was extremely prescient, so perhaps, that's why it's back. We kind of took it for granted back then, when times were flush and we were living high on the hog. It's even more important now.

So if John Dvorak pretends he doesn't know what it means, I'm happy to explain it. Ironically, it's about the same powershift that occurred when mainframes became dinosaurs and something called the "PC" appeared on everyone's desk at work and at home. Surely John knows something about the revolution caused by the PC. If he just wants to make fun of it, yes, that's easy to do. But John, read it one more time with me if you're serious about "getting it".

It means, "stop treating us like morons," or maybe "stop committing economic and demographic violence against us." Try this:

1. Markets are conversations. (We're sick of being talked down to, talked at, lectured at about what junk to buy. We want to be on equal footing with the person selling and we want to ask them questions, get substantive answers and the Net let's us do that.)

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. (Is it too much to ask, to simply be considered a unique human being?)

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. (Not like silly advertising pitches.)

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments, or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived. (We know if you are a person. Stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes. That's what selling used to be, that doesn't work anymore.)

5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice. (Everyone knows when you're talking to them like an idiot. We've all stopped listening. Unless you talk to us like a real person, we're long gone.)

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. (Instead of being privately assaulted in our living rooms with a salesman's phony pitch, we're able to ask a friend for the truth about the lemon he just bought.)

7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. (We used to grant a salesperson some respect and believe he had some knowledge. With links, we can quickly find out if what s/he is saying is even remotely factual and their heirarchical status is thereby reaffirmed or seriously compromised. Just ask Jeffrey Skilling.)

8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way. (Just the fact that they ARE speaking to one another is powerful.)

9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. (You might think we're all more than familiar with the results -- new ways to work, new ways to learn, new ways to think -- but actually it's just beginning. Watch.)

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. (All true and it means you can't sell anything to us the way you used to, and that includes cars, pizza, books, Enron, war, taxes, etc That old standard cliche 'information is power' isn't a cliche for nothing.)

One last thing. I think this boat rose on a tide of women's long-term frustration with being treating like consumer idiots. We've always been spoken to like idiots. Most pre-1990's marketing is based on solidly misogynist assumptions. Marketing, until very recently, has been a classic verbally abusive enterprise. None of us women were surprised when this book became a bestseller. The whole paradigm of speaking to women consumers like easy-to-manipulate, easy-to-cheat, easy-to-fool MORONS disintegrated, when advertising tried speaking to men that way. No wonder our boy felt rage.