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The Ocean-Marketing Lesson Everyone Missed


By Ken Magill

Lost in the worldwide coverage of the Ocean-Marketing fiasco has been the single most important lesson for marketers and publishers when it comes to engaging customers and prospects.

For those who may have missed the most riveting marketing story of 2011, an email exchange was published last week on Penny Arcade in which Paul Christoforo, president of a firm called Ocean Marketing, became shockingly abusive with a customer inquiring about an order.

Most chalked it up to a lesson in how not to deliver customer service. But that wasn’t the lesson.

Anyone who could learn anything from the now-infamous exchange between Christoforo and a customer named Dave has no business getting anywhere near earshot of customers or prospects, much less communicating directly with them.

And, no, the lesson for marketers and publishers in the Ocean-Marketing incident wasn’t about the power of word-of-mouth, the Internet and social media.

The real lesson in the Christoforo meltdown was about content: the sole reason his abusive exchange with Dave went viral.

The content of Christoforo’s emails was unhinged, shocking and by-god-beautiful-in-its-jaw-dropping inappropriateness. It was different, entertaining and riveting. And for that it went spectacularly viral.

Should marketers try and emulate Christoforo? Absolutely, but in a very narrow sense.

These days practically everyone’s a content creator. But most of the content on the Internet is mediocre to crap. Just go to any corporate website and click on the “about us” tab for an example.

And lest some folks think I’m just an old-media hack bemoaning that fact that I can’t gate-keep anymore, nothing could be further from the truth. Professional media outfits are easily cranking out as much garbage as the amateurs.

Why? Because the people in charge at most publishers are mostly focused on the wrong things—page views and search-engine rankings, for example.

Christoforo’s emails were borderline incomprehensible, but from a content standpoint they were online-publishing gold. Just ask Penny Arcade publisher Mike Krahulik. He knew a social-media shit storm in the making when he saw it.

Christoforo’s emails offered readers a compelling experience they couldn’t get anywhere else. They were wildly different from everything else people were wading through that day. And boy, were they fun.

Before I left my last publisher, I attended a few meetings on where the company was headed and what its writers and editors should do to position it for the 21st century.

Invariably, writing techniques for getting search-engine rankings came up. Repurposing content for the various newsletters and blogs in an effort to create volume was also a regular topic.

What never came up—not ever—was content quality.

“Stuff you’ve edited out of a story or parts of an interview you didn’t use can make for a blog post,” said one colleague [paraphrasing].

I didn’t use that stuff for a reason. I deemed it unworthy of my readers’ standards because I respect their time.

When content creators and publishers think in terms of tonnage for tonnage’s sake and search-engine rankings, they are showing incredible disrespect for would-be content consumers’ time.

Successful online content creation isn’t about volume. It’s about delivering a unique experience that is useful, valuable, educational or entertaining—in the best of all worlds, all four.

The Ocean-Marketing fiasco delivered unique and entertaining in spades.

A recent study by Microsoft of its Hotmail email address holders determined that more than half of their messages are newsletters and deals.

That’s a lot of commercial noise to contend with. The way to beat it is by standing out and offering a valuable experience no one else does—without being abusive, of course.


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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: 2012-01-03 18:07:42
Subject: Thanks, Jim

We'll never know if you're correct. But you make good points. I took Penny Arcade's reach into account but then decided that the fact that the incident went way beyond the gamer audience bolstered my point. Newsworthyness relevant to whatever else is goijng on is also an important consideration. But--and we'll never know if I'm right here--I decided that Christforo's nuttiness would gain traction under most circumstances.
Posted by: Jim Ducharme
Date: 2012-01-03 16:57:16

In my previous comment I forgot to factor in audience reach! Certainly PA has a huge and very loyal audience. That obviously played a big role, but even so, this Paul guy wouldn't have been getting network airtime if there had been a good war to report on that week ;). Regards, Jim Ducharme
Posted by: Jim Ducharme
Date: 2012-01-03 16:52:57

Hi Ken, I agree the balance has swung too far in favour of SEO. God knows, I don't want to have a machine as a publisher -- I had enough of that when I worked in print! :) I also agree with your formula for what makes good content -- thanks for stating that without using any buzz words :). As for the Ocean Marketing fiasco... I can't agree the sole reason for this thing going viral was the content. I say that because not long ago Paul got into a very similar scrap with another blogger who then posted the exchange -- that did not get the attention this incident did. The formula for this kind of viral explosion isn't just the content itself, but the timing. I doubt this would have had the same impact if it were not for a slow news week during Christmas vacation. Regards, Jim Ducharme