Silly season. Welcome to it. Fourth quarter, that time when all the delayed projects become all of a sudden magically important and critical. Where ya been the rest of this year? Something else was more important this year. I dare you to analyze whether all that other stuff that pulled you all over Tarnation was truly more important than the stuff that’s now facing you squarely in the pie–hole.
The types of projects that get delayed fall into several buckets. First, the “Too Hard To Pull Off” projects. These can also be called the “Yeah, Right. Like That Would Ever Happen” projects. These projects typically involve a high level of interaction between marketing, product, and IT teams that work so awkwardly together it’s almost humorous, except for the fact that your ass is on the line. You think to yourself throughout the year, “I didn't get a degree in advanced psychology, so this is not happening.” Now, it’s fourth quarter. Your MBOs are looming, and Harry in IT just shut down all access to external social networks on the corporate network. Oh, and he’s the IT team lead for your social loyalty and advocacy strategy. Sweet.
The second bucket is the “I'm Being Asked To Identify And Capture A Herd Of Racing Unicorns” project. This is the project whereby the executive management team read an article from 2008 (it showed up in a Google search, but no one bothered to check the date stamp) talking about how the future is all about viral campaigns. Something about a subservient cockroach or . . . something. Whatever. I want that. Because if we go viral, then we’re awesome, and everyone will know us, and everyone will visit our Web site and buy our product.
This project is pure fantasy. Especially for your budget. Firstly, most viral videos (because that's really what we’re talking about) are amateur-made. Secondly, the corporate ones that went big—like the Old Spice guy—were goosed by Super Bowl ads and media campaigns. (Speaking of, if this viral stuff is so easy, where’s 2011’s equivalent? *cricket cricket*) These campaigns didn’t go viral on their own. Nothing does. OK, OK. Occasionally one gets unbearably lucky, but that happens so rarely that thinking yours will defies logic and sensible judgment.
And yet, here we are. No matter the scientific evidence, someone at the very top believes there’s a unicorn with your brand’s name embedded on its horn, and it’s your job to go find it. Sigh. Makes me sad and angry.
And finally, we come to my favorite one: the “Make A Baby In A Month” project. Otherwise known as the "I Know We Should Have Been Doing This Social Media Thing for the Past Three Years And Now We're So Far Behind Our Competition That I Need You To Catch Us Up By November Or Your Ass Is Toast, But Don't Look At Me . . . How Could I Have Known? . . . I Was Too Busy Approving The Talent For Our MySpace Campaign.” Look, don’t be the one asking for this project. It’s not your people’s fault that you’re late to the social media game. You should have been building your network diligently over the past two years at least, and the fact that you’re just getting started now doesn’t make social media any less difficult or painstaking. Social success is about earning trust and fostering real human relationships. It’s a slog. An extremely important, fundamental slog. So don’t direct your poor VPs of marketing into the first available bar and tell them that if they don’t emerge out of there in 20 minutes with their life-long lovers, then their tenure is over. Don’t ask them to be the economic equivalent of a one-night stand. And, by the way, they feel this way when you ask.
The silly season and the train wrecks of these types of projects come about because most corporations haven’t evolved past the idea that marketing can be turned on and off and goosed with the same level of output as you could when you controlled media and consumer impressions. Modern marketing is truly, TRULY about human relationships, and the dynamics we expect from one another as humans—don’t be a jerk, don’t spit in people’s food, wash your hands, don’t proposition their wife or husband at the holiday party—we expect from brands too. A lot of crap is going to get launched in the coming months. Watch for it. These will be the fodder for columnists and bloggers for the 2012 speaking circuit. Don’t be a part of it.