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Ken Magill

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Stupid Media Watch: No Knowledge? No Qualifications? You're Hired!


By Ken Magill

I’ve come to the conclusion that the process consumer-press writers go through when pitching editors on stories and columns about marketing and privacy go like the following:

Editor: Why do you want to write a hit piece on marketing for the Will Publish Any Idiot’s Opinion on Marketing Gazette?

Columnist: Because marketing is evil.

Editor: Have you ever worked in marketing?

Columnist: No.

Editor: Do you know anything about marketing?

Columnist: Oh, yes. I’m an expert. I read every piece of junk mail that comes into my mailbox. Would you believe they send me mail that indicates they know the types of things I’m likely to buy? That’s wrong. I think people should know how marketers use their information against them by showing them stuff they want.

Editor: Do you have any evidence that anyone has ever been harmed even in the slightest by marketers using information involving them.

Columnist: Nope, not a smidge.

Editor: Well then, get cracking! You're perfect for this assignment! Eight hundred words. Working title is “Marketers Suck.”

The latest contribution to the gargantuan cesspool of consumer-press idiocy regarding marketing comes to us courtesy of Walter Brasch writing for

In a piece headlined “You can’t hide from these prying eyes,” Brasch used Edward Snowden— the fugitive who leaked details of some of the National Security Administration’s surveillance efforts—as a leaping-off point.

“The media have been playing ‘cops and robbers,’ trying to track down the location of Edward Snowden, who had fled to Hong Kong and said the U.S. was spying on its citizens,” Brasch wrote.

“The citizens are scared and paranoid; visions of Big Brother are peering into their lives.”

Then Brasch predictably reaches straight into his ass and pulls out a know-nothing claim that the government is a bunch of database pikers compared to evil commercial interests.

“[T]he government's knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children's coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone,” wrote Brasch.

Never mind that he can’t possibly know how the uses of government and private-sector data compare. He doesn’t have access to the details of either. But he has the evidence to back up that statement and it’s unassailable—unassailable in this case meaning meets the reasoning standards of an eight year old.

“Doubt that?” Brasch wrote. “Just open your mail any day; chances are good you'll have more junk mail - the corporations prefer to call it ‘direct mail’ - than anything else. Check your email; if you're not being spammed hourly, you are probably one of the few people in the U.S. who is living in an underground bomb shelter with no access to the outside world.”

First, the sheer volume of direct mail sheds no light on data usage. In fact, one could argue people get less junk mail because of marketing data and more advertising mail that is likely to be of interest.

Second, spamming is arguably the least targeted direct-marketing tactic in existence. Neither of Basch’s examples indicate anything about the use of data for marketing purposes.

But why dwell on niggling little details when we can watch Brasch reach back into his ass and pull out a bunch of warranty cards?

“And don't complain. You caused all this,” Basch wrote.

“Americans routinely fill out myriad forms that ask all kinds of personal information. Buy an appliance - or just about anything - and some database company learns not just the name, address, and where and when the customer bought that item, but also family income, what pets the family has, and the family's hobbies. Some "warranty" cards ask more than five dozen questions, the data coded and stored on computers accessible by junk mail advertisers.”

Of course, Basch can’t possibly know whether Americans routinely fill out “myriad” forms or not. It’s private information. He doesn’t have access to it. He does have access to his ass, though. Let’s watch him pull out some telemarketing surveys.

“Answer your telephone and respond to someone who claims to be from a ‘marketing survey company,’ and dozens of offers will soon be yours to explore,” he wrote.

Of course, what Brasch doesn’t have in his ass is the knowledge that self-reported information is the most inaccurate information at a marketer’s disposal. Buying behavior is far more predictive. That’s why telemarketing surveys are generally used to gauge brand awareness, not to craft direct-marketing offers.

Let’s see what Brasch pulls out of his ass next. Voila! Loyalty cards:

“The first thing scanned at registers in most supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, drug stores and chain stores of all kinds is the bar-coded membership card that alerts a computer to record and analyze inventory and track each purchase a customer makes. These cards lure customers to believe they are getting special deals in exchange for giving up their privacy. At its best, it may mean special coupons from manufacturers. At its worst, it means the store sells the data to a health insurance company that raises rates because it determines the customer bought too many bags of potato chips.”

Is he kidding with this? How about Brasch’s insurance company raise his rates for the operation he’s going to need on his rectum?

I just wrote a case study for a client on a loyalty program launched by a large consumer-packaged goods firm. Why did this firm feel the need to launch a loyalty program? Because retail chains won’t share their shoppers’ club-card information even with them.

The idea that retailers won’t share their customer data with the companies that supply their goods but will sell it to an insurance firm for any reason is preposterous.

So what are Brasch’s qualifications to write about marketing?

He’s a “social-issues” journalist whose current book is: “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster.”

Nowhere does anything written about him indicate he knows anything about the inner-workings of marketing and advertising. We now know there’s a good reason for that.

Let’s hope he’s a little more qualified to write about fracking.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-07-10 13:43:58
Subject: Wrong Interview?

Hadn't thought about that, but you are right!
Posted by: Vince
Date: 2013-07-09 19:50:25
Subject: Wrong interview?

It looks more like a Senior FTC position interview transcript Ken