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Ken Magill

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Is That Marketing, Or Just a Farting Noise?

By Ken Magill

Marketing lessons can come from the unlikeliest places.

One morning after having arrived home in the wee hours from a conference, I woke my seven-year-old son up.

Max—whom I hadn’t seen for three days—opened his eyes and gave me the most heart-warming grin I think I ever saw. However, the grin was not for the fact that his dad was home.

The grin was because he learned a new trick while I was gone.

“Look daddy, I can make a farting noise with my armpit,” he said after jumping out of bed.

He then cupped his hand in his armpit and started flapping his arm: “Pffft! Pffft! Pffft!”

Max then trotted out into the living room and said: “Look daddy. I can make a farting noise with a Cheez-It in my armpit.”

He then put a Cheez-It in his armpit, cupped his hand in it and started flapping his arm: “Pffft! Pffft! Pffft!”

Apparently, Max and his buddies had been practicing making farting noises with their armpits in the school lunch room.

“Do you do that in class?’ I asked. “No, Daddy,” he replied. “I don’t want to make Mrs. Coby mad.”

At least he knows where it is and isn’t appropriate, I thought.

Which is more than we can say for some marketers.

I once sat in a meeting during which a publisher showed off some Web-site wiz bang our Web designers had just developed.

I forget where it was to be deployed—I think it was for an email campaign—but opening it resulted in one of our titles popping up and then a big exclamation point dropping down as it made this loud “pachung!” noise.

“I just love that,” said the publisher with a satisfied smile.

To which I said: “Do you think people are going to love you for making a loud ‘pachung!’ noise in their cubes during the workday?”

“Why do you have to ruin everything?” the publisher shot back.

Thing is, the publisher didn’t love the pachung! thing because of a belief readers would love it. The publisher loved it because it looked and sounded cool to a focus group of one. The pachung! thing made the publisher feel good, just like my son making farting noise with a Cheez-It in his armpit makes him feel good. However, Max’s new talent was at least funny and he knew instinctively where not to employ it.

Just because a marketer learns a new trick doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate tactic to employ. Too much of marketing is people doing things simply because they think it’s cool—or worse, their spouse thinks it’s cool.

Rather than using new stuff just because it looks—or in this case, sounds—funny, entertaining or cool, marketers should ask themselves: “Is this an appropriate tactic for my audience to which they’ll respond positively, or am I simply making farting noises with a Cheez-It in my armpit?”

Author’s note: Since this column was written, Max has also learned to make farting noises by cupping his hand against the back of his knee and pumping his leg. The whole business has become incredibly annoying. There’s probably a lesson for marketers in there, as well.

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