Commentary

The Dilemma Of The Middle-Aged Marketer

Today is my birthday. I still call myself middle-age, but truth be told, I passed being middle-aged some time ago. I would more accurately be called two/thirds-aged (hopefully).

 That’s not the only half-truth I’m hanging on to.

When new people I meet ask me my profession, I like to say I’m a “reformed marketer.” In addition to being somewhat untruthful, I also realize now that this response is pretentious on many different levels.

First of all, it gives off this “holier than thou” vibe that's a little off-putting.

Secondly, if I regret being a marketer so much, why am I still hanging on for dear life to that particular epithet? The people I’m being introduced to now often have no idea of my past. The fact that I once called marketing my career has no relevance to them. They could care less. I’m just saying it for effect.

That’s a little sad.

If I dig way down to the truth, I have to admit being a marketer defined me for most of my life. I loved influencing people. I adored my career. And I’m not ready to let that part of me go.

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Calling myself a reformed marketer gives me the illusory comfort of still hanging on to something important to me, but holding it at arm’s length, like a disease I’ve recovered from. I’m trying to play both ends against the middle.

And thus comes the Middle Aged Marketer’s Dilemma. It hit me in my 40s.

In last week’s column, I started talking about “Why” vs the other 4 Ws: "Who, What, When and Where." I have a love/hate relationship with “Why.” It was that damned “Why” that ushered in the Dilemma.

As I said, I loved “What” I did as a marketer. It was endlessly challenging and fascinating. And if you love “What” enough, you don’t really care so much about “When” and “Where.” You’ll work ridiculously long hours in whatever location your career takes you.

I even came to terms with “Who.” I loved most of my clients. The few I didn’t, I managed to either cut loose or build a big enough buffer so that they didn’t make my life too miserable for too long. Those 4 Ws allowed me to carve out a pretty fantastic life for myself.

But then came along that damned “Why.” It was innocent at first. My “whys” had a limited and very applied scope. They were specific to the work I did for my clients. They allowed me to add another dimension to the market research we were doing for others. The more I asked “why,” the more I wanted to learn about how people ticked. I loved “what” I was doing even more.

Then my “why” flipped on me and went for the jugular. It has a habit of doing that. I made the mistake of asking myself why I was doing what I did for a living.

It’s a tough question. I don’t think many of us want to go gentle into that good night without having sussed for ourselves a pretty good reason why we have lived our lives.  And when middle-aged marketers asks themselves “why,” a satisfying answer does not immediately spring to mind.

“So I could help profit-obsessed companies sell more shit to people who don’t need it” is not exactly a sterling argument for canonization.

And yes, I did just toss everything about marketing into the same over-generalized bucket. Quibble if you will. I know there are exceptions. If you navel-gaze long enough, you’re sure to find them. But I’ll stand by my struggle with “why,” if you can stand by yours.

Today, I’m still struggling with the Dilemma. The fact that I’m still writing this column week after week speaks to my inability to let the past go. I remain totally in love with the “what” of marketing, but have ethical issues with the “why.”

I do believe marketing is built upon the questionable edifice of consumerism -- and I’m not sure there’s a lot of moral high ground we can lay claim to.

We work (or, in my case, did work) in an industry that depends on humans having baser instincts.
6 comments about "The Dilemma Of The Middle-Aged Marketer".
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  1. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., July 30, 2019 at 2:15 p.m.

    Happy birthday, Gord.

  2. Jack a. Silverman from Bolin Marketing, July 30, 2019 at 3:13 p.m.

    Gord just how old are you? I'm actually old and still in the agency business. Although I've had to embrace my digital destiny to survive!

  3. Andy McNabb from AndyMcNabb.com, July 30, 2019 at 10:39 p.m.

    Gord, happy birthday.  I'll share my own WHY, to further the discussion.  

    My WHY is the ministry opportunity in sharing the life saving gospel of Jesus Christ (John 3:3) that comes as a result of the work in addressing business owners' own WHYs; in their realizing more satisfaction/joy/peace in helping them discover and monetize new opportunities and overcome challenges.

  4. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, July 31, 2019 at 9:59 a.m.

    Marketers take too much credit for "selling more shit to people who don't need it". We are not really that controlling or influential. Ultimately people just buy what they want. That may or not include a "need" as viewed by another person. 

  5. Stephanie Beran Sanderson from Wordsworth + Booth, July 31, 2019 at 10:50 a.m.

    Wow, Gord, way to tap into my own vulnerabilty today. Every time I think of this, I end up with, "what would I do instead?"

    Since you're asking... My why comes in the form of helping entities - people, products, organizations - deliver on their own purpose and their why (ultimately to drive sales or awareness or reputation - gotta love consumerism!). Some may say that other careers could fulfill this just as well... but then I come back to the what and who of the job. Those are generally fun, creative, energizing, inspiring... and most days, that's enough!

    So I remain, just another middle-aged marketer - by choice. 

  6. K Fredrickson from imark, August 1, 2019 at 5:32 p.m.

    As middle-aged marketers it's OK to question the WHY. Now that my third decade in the business appears closer in the rear view mirror, the WHO matters the most. The clients and now the students I interact with as part-time faculty at a regional state University. Thank you for sharing your insights. It makes you pause and think about the W's and how to recalabrate if something does not feel right.

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