From Mad Men to Sad Men: The Decline of Marketing’s Appeal

“Ah, Marketing. Remember that? The career everyone dreamed about until, apparently, nobody did. Marketing Week, back in the distant haze of 2018, shared a delightful anecdote about marketing’s plummet down the career aspiration charts. A mere 3% of school leavers, from a survey – a big one, over eight thousand students – whispered ‘marketing’ as their career dream, a mumble really, against the roaring ambitions of Medicine, Business Management, and even, wait for it, Accountancy.

And why? Role models, or the glaring absence of them in marketing. The big guns these days are not in the creative department, but in the finance and management departments. Not a ponytail in sight. Plus, Generation Z’s growing aversion to advertising – a dislike? No, let’s call it distrust, it’s more… sinister. Millions of them download ad-blocking software on a weekly basis. Is it that they don’t like the idea of succumbing to consumerism, or that the ads are about as interesting as that raised cameo of banality, embossed anaglypta? 

Worse still, those few, those brave 3%, weren’t even sure about their choice. Imagine that, in a university classroom, asking who wants a career in marketing, and the silence, the silence is almost… poetic.

And then, a survey of comprehensive school children in North London – because where else would you go for a pulse on the nation? – described marketing as ‘stressful’, ‘boring’, and not fitting into the kind of lifestyle they dreamt of. I imagine these children, looking at their ad industry parents, their professionally traumatised, burnt-out parents, and thinking, ‘No, thank you.’

Charlotte Rogers, the author, tells us these future marketing moguls want a good salary, work-life balance, creativity, and the chance to help people. Sounds like a fantasy job description, doesn’t it?

So, off to the alcoholic-encrusted casualty unit they go, rather than endure a dreary life in communications. University, that steppingstone to the marketing world, isn’t doing much better. A mere half of marketing graduates actually end up in the field. What are we doing to these poor souls in academia? Encouraging critical thinking, sure, but is it at the expense of preparing them for the real world?

Now, let’s talk numbers. The UK’s advertising and marketing workforce: up and down like a yo-yo. From 225,000 in 2021, down to 192,000 in 2022. Jobs are dropping faster than the country’s faith in sensible government. And yet, ad spend is up. The irony! Salaries, however, are not. Junior and mid-level wages down, cost of living up – it’s almost a comedy, if it weren’t so tragic.

The Advertising Association is setting up a Talent Taskforce. Yes, a taskforce, because that’s what we need. More meetings to discuss the bleeding talent.

In terms of diversity, class isn’t the issue. I remember the old days, art school grads rubbing shoulders with toffs from Public Schools in the creative department. Diversity wasn’t a policy; it was just… happening. Now, it’s all about merging, acquiring, and maximizing shareholder value, and only those with a head for figures, head for the agency life. The once vibrant and creative industry has become a sausage factory, minus the charm.

So, what do we do? Yes, let’s put on our optimistic hats, shall we? Because, as we all know, a hat changes everything.

Firstly, let’s ‘Update Career Narratives’. Spin a yarn about how marketing is now all about social impact, innovation and the ability to walk a mile in the shoes of other people. Because, clearly, if there’s one thing Gen Z loves more than their avocados, it’s a good story. Especially one that glosses over the less palatable aspects of relentlessly emulsified consumer targeting. 

Now let’s talk about ‘Diversity and Inclusivity’. In 2020, Marketing Week described the lack of diversity within marketing as, “A ticking timebomb with the potential to undermine the future creativity and relevance of the industry for years to come.” Their Career and Salary Survey revealed that a staggering 88% of the 3,883 respondents identify as white, with just 4% identifying as mixed race, 5% as Asian and 2% as black. There was little exploration of gender, physical or neurodiversity in the report. Despite the advances in technology, marketing is still a people business. So that is failure on an industrial scale to attract the mix of authentic perspectives we need to connect with consumers.

Then, there’s ‘Mentorship Programs’. Pair up the old, jaded marketing professionals with bright-eyed students. It’s like a buddy movie, but the plot revolves around existential dread and PowerPoint presentations.

‘Curriculum Reform’ is up next. Because nothing says ‘preparing for the real world’ like a university course doing a 180 every time Google changes its algorithm. Hands-on learning experiences? Sure. Let’s throw in some digital marketing and analytics for good measure. After all, nothing says fun like data analysis.

‘Work-Life Balance’, now that’s a novel concept. Maybe marketing agencies could position themselves as zen gardens of the corporate world. Yoga at lunch, meditation breaks, and the occasional retreat to Bali. Warren Buffet once said something about billions in the bank. Let’s use that for inspiration, shall we?

Oh, and ‘Competitive Compensation’. This one’s easy. Just pay people more. But not too much, we wouldn’t want to disrupt the delicate ecosystem of underpaid interns and overworked juniors.

‘Re-emphasise Creativity’, because apparently, we need to remind people that marketing used to be a creative industry. Let’s put it in bold on the job description, right next to ‘must be proficient in Excel’.

‘Promote Marketing’s Impact’. Yes, let’s tell everyone about the great successes. Those ad campaigns that really changed the world. Like the one that made people buy things they didn’t need with money they didn’t have.

And of course, ‘Transparency in Progression’. Lay out the career path in marketing, from intern to CMO, as clearly as a board game. ‘Career Monopoly’, anyone? Just watch out for the ‘burnout’ square.

Finally, ‘Industry Collaboration’. It’s time for businesses and educational institutions to join forces. Because if there’s one thing that solves an industry crisis, it’s a committee.

So there we have it, a road map to a brighter future for marketing. Or, at the very least, a slightly less gloomy version of the present. The marketing industry, a once dynamic field, now struggling to sell itself to the very people it needs. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to communicate, which, ironically, is supposed to be our thing.”

We need to reposition marketing as the meeting point of cybernetics, creativity and culture.

Repositioning marketing as the intersection of cybernetics, creativity, and culture involves a nuanced and forward-thinking approach. It’s about embracing the evolving landscape where these three elements converge to create a new, dynamic realm of possibilities. Let’s expand on this concept:

Cybernetics as the Backbone: In today’s dynamic marketing landscape, cybernetics has the potential to be the foundational framework, seamlessly merging human ingenuity with cutting-edge AI technology. This fusion embodies the core principles of cybernetics – feedback, control, and system dynamics – to orchestrate effective marketing campaigns. By integrating AI-driven analytics and virtual reality, alongside human creativity and insight, marketing transcends its traditional scope, evolving into a sophisticated, synergistic practice.

Central to this cybernetic approach is the collaborative interplay between human marketers and AI systems. Here, AI tools are not just leveraged for their data-processing capabilities; they are integral components of a self-regulating marketing system that benefits from human strategic thinking and ethical oversight. This system continuously refines itself, adapting and optimizing based on real-time consumer feedback, human insights, and emerging technological trends.

The outcome is a dynamic, hybrid marketing strategy, deeply rooted in the cybernetic principles of interconnectivity, responsiveness, and human-AI collaboration. It navigates the complexities of the digital world with a unique blend of precision and human-centric creativity. In this redefined marketing realm, cybernetics doesn’t just support strategies; it transforms them into adaptive, intelligent mechanisms that are attuned to both the data-driven and human aspects of the ever-evolving marketing landscape.

Creativity as the Soul: In the realm of marketing, while technology acts as a powerful enabler, it is creativity that breathes life into campaigns, transforming them from mere messages into resonant, human experiences. This creative essence is the soul of marketing, vital in forging connections that transcend the transactional nature of commerce.

In this reimagined landscape, creativity is not confined to the creation of visually striking advertisements or clever slogans. Instead, it delves deeper, weaving narratives that capture the imagination, evoke emotions, and create lasting impressions. This involves innovative storytelling that doesn’t just tell a brand’s story but immerses the audience in it, allowing them to become part of the narrative.

Moreover, creativity in marketing transcends conventional boundaries. It’s about harnessing insights not just from market data, but from a broader cultural context, blending them with artistic expression to produce campaigns that are culturally relevant, emotionally resonant, and deeply impactful. This approach recognises the diversity of audiences and strives to create content that is inclusive and reflective of the myriad of human experiences.

Additionally, creativity in this context is synonymous with problem-solving. It involves looking at marketing challenges through a creative lens and finding unique solutions that stand out in a saturated digital environment. It’s about using technology not just for its own sake, but as a canvas and tool for creative expression. From augmented reality experiences that bring products to life in unexpected ways to AI-driven content that personalises the customer journey, the fusion of technology and creativity opens new frontiers for engagement.

Furthermore, this creative soul of marketing is dynamic and ever evolving. It adapts to the changing tastes and preferences of audiences, the shifting landscapes of culture and technology, and the evolving narratives of the society it speaks to. It’s about staying ahead of trends, experimenting with new formats and mediums, and being unafraid to take risks in pursuit of innovation.

In essence, creativity in marketing is about crafting messages and experiences that are not just seen or heard but felt. It’s about creating a dialogue with audiences, engaging them in a manner that is both meaningful and memorable. This creative soul, therefore, is not an optional embellishment but the very essence of effective marketing, essential for brands looking to make a genuine impact in the lives of their consumers.

Culture as the Context: In the intricate tapestry of marketing, culture serves as the context, the backdrop against which all strategies and narratives are woven. Marketing, in its most effective form, is an art that mirrors and speaks to the cultural milieu in which it operates. It reflects the times, absorbing and responding to the societal ethos, values, and movements that shape consumer consciousness.

Understanding and integrating cultural trends is more than just a strategic advantage; it’s a necessity. This requires marketers to be cultural anthropologists, attuned to the subtle shifts in societal norms, attitudes, and preferences. They must be adept at reading the zeitgeist, discerning not just the overt expressions of culture but also its undercurrents. This involves deep immersion in social movements, artistic trends, digital subcultures, and the evolving lexicon of the target audience.

Anticipating future trends is equally important. Marketers must possess the foresight to see beyond the present, to envision how current cultural trajectories may evolve and how emerging phenomena might influence consumer behavior. This forward-looking approach allows brands to stay relevant, resonant, and ahead of the curve.

Creating culturally relevant campaigns means crafting messages that are not only heard but resonate on a deeper, more personal level with the audience. It’s about building narratives that are inclusive, reflecting the diversity of the audience in a way that is authentic and respectful. This inclusivity is not merely a token gesture but a genuine reflection of the brand’s understanding and appreciation of its diverse audience.

This cultural alignment is crucial in ensuring that marketing efforts are impactful. When a campaign resonates with the values, beliefs, and aspirations of its audience, it transcends the realm of advertising and becomes part of the cultural conversation. It has the power to not just capture attention but to inspire, motivate, and even drive social change.

Moreover, in this culturally contextual approach, sensitivity and adaptability are key. Marketers must navigate the cultural landscape with respect and empathy, understanding the significance of cultural nuances and the implications of their messaging. This means being vigilant about not appropriating or misrepresenting cultural elements and being responsive to feedback from diverse communities.

In sum, positioning culture as the context in marketing is about embedding strategies and campaigns within the rich, dynamic fabric of society. It’s about understanding that marketing is a dialogue with culture, one that requires listening as much as speaking, learning as much as leading. By aligning with the cultural context, marketing becomes more than a business strategy; it becomes a meaningful, engaging, and influential part of the societal narrative.

Synergy of All Three: The true power lies in the synergy of cybernetics, creativity, and culture. This means developing campaigns where technological innovation amplifies creative ideas, and both are grounded in cultural relevance. For example, using AI to analyse cultural trends and consumer behavior, then using those insights to fuel creative campaigns that are not only technologically sophisticated but also culturally resonant.

Educational and Ethical Considerations: As we reposition marketing at this tri-junction, there’s also a need to educate both professionals and consumers about the ethical use of technology, the importance of creative integrity, and cultural sensitivity. This involves training marketers to use data responsibly, encouraging creative solutions that promote positive social impact, and fostering a deep understanding and respect for diverse cultures.

Future-Oriented Approach: This repositioning is not just about adapting to the current landscape but also about being future-oriented. It’s about anticipating how technological advancements, creative trends, and cultural shifts will evolve and preparing to adapt and innovate in response to these changes.

Collaborative and Cross-Disciplinary: Finally, this approach calls for collaboration across different fields. Technologists, creatives, cultural researchers, data scientists, and marketers need to work together to create campaigns that are technologically advanced, creatively brilliant, and culturally relevant. This cross-disciplinary collaboration can lead to ground-breaking ideas and campaigns that set new standards in the marketing world.

In summary, repositioning marketing as the meeting point of cybernetics, creativity, and culture is about creating a dynamic and holistic approach that leverages the strengths of each area to create more impactful, relevant, and innovative marketing strategies. This approach not only reflects the current landscape but also sets a path for the future of marketing.