"I'm in marketing."
When I hear someone say that, I cringe. When I say it myself, I feel a defensive urge to explain what I do.
I trace my aversion to the term back to a girl who drove the Wienermobile.
She was a lovely girl. In fact, her perpetual smile and cheerleader personality made her well suited to the position. When she first mentioned she was in marketing for Oscar Mayer, I was impressed; when I discovered she was touring county fairs in a fiberglass hot dog, I was somewhat less impressed. To be fair, she was, in fact, in marketing for Oscar Mayer. As she was only 21, it's possible that she went on to be chief marketing officer of an international sausage conglomerate. I suspect not, but it's possible.
You see, the problem is that the terms "marketer" and "marketing" cast a very large net. In fact, I would opine that no one could legitimately tell you how many marketing jobs there are in the world. I tried to find out. I went to Google, (which is the modern day version of the Oracle of Delphi) to seek the answer. No luck. And if the answer doesn't appear within the first 10 results of a Google search, it doesn't exist.
It seems every institution of higher education in the world offers a business degree, and 90% of those who graduate go into "marketing." I suppose the term "marketing" sounds glamorous to some. But when a guy in a gorilla suit standing alongside a highway trying to attract attention to a used car dealership calls himself a marketer, I have to wonder.
I don't want to seem arrogant, but not all marketing is equal. I spend much of my time managing a million-dollar budget and trying to relate highly technical messages to a perfectly selected subgroup of potential customers. I've been working in "marketing" for more than 30 years; I graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Journalism, and I hold an MBA in marketing from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
But it's not just about me and my credentials. I work with some of the most phenomenal marketers in the business. No way should they be painted with that brush; it's just an entirely different job.
This all went through my mind the other day when someone suggested the Hooters Girls were in marketing. First of all, I thought the fiction was that these "spokesbimbos" were actually waitresses … but is cooing around spring break in orange hot pants marketing?
Oscar Mayer or Hooters have certainly been successful with their marketing, and I don't begrudge them that. I just don't want my colleagues or myself to be conflated with them. Perhaps new terminology is necessary to separate the infomercial spokesman from product managers.
Musicians suffer from the same kind of misappellation. The guy in the subway collecting donations in his guitar case for his caterwauling is every bit as much of a musician as Yo-Yo Ma. There's room for both in this world, but we need some sort of distinction.
The military worked this out long ago. They're all soldiers, but they have ranks, and display that rank on their uniforms. Every soldier starts with a single stripe and may eventually work his way up to all of those stars and additional stripes. So maybe marketers need a uniform. We could start by wearing orange hot pants and then a gorilla suit.
That won't work.
I just thought about our new intern … the orange hot pants really won't work for him.