Why You Need Satan on Your Marketing Team

No, Not That Cloven-Hoofed Guy, but Someone Who Challenges You to Break the Rules

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If you want to make sure that your marketing plans are top-notch, look past your agency and expert counsel and get Satan on your team.

I'm not suggesting you sign a deal with the devil to ensure your next campaign's success, however tempting it might be. (One could argue that consigning your brand to the vicissitudes of the social web constitutes just such a Faustian bargain anyway, so you've already used a turgid red ink to sign a few contracts.)

Rather than that, I'm saying that you should get old-school -- really, really old-school -- and go pre-Old Testament with your branding strategy.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.

Before there was a cloven-hoofed Satan with a penchant for steering mortals into error, it was a job description. Satan was the "adversary" or "accuser," whose role was to haunt the holy boardroom with incessant taunts of "What if it doesn't work?" and "Nuh-uh." He worked for the system as sort of a faith litmus tester, or a holy QC, challenging the rule makers and nudging mortals into rule breaking, with the deliverable to "break the barrel but not spill any wine." In other words, Satan was the ancient world's Chris Hansen.

You need someone like this on your team.

We had just such a person at Grey when I was there in the early 1980s. I don't remember her name, but we had to run every new-business presentation past her. It wasn't fun, because it was pretty much guaranteed that at some point she'd scrunch up her face and say, "I'm sorry, I just don't follow what you're saying." It didn't matter that the immediate answer usually included mention of common sense, laws of physics, or some tidbit of recent and obvious shared cultural history. We'd have to amend the pitch, and trudging back to clarify such points consistently produced better results.

A true Satan would do much more, of course. You need your basic assumptions challenged, and the declarative truths of your agencies and experts (and the media that cover them) not only questioned but aggressively dared. Is conversation inherently good? Is the problem that consumers don't "like" ads anymore? Are clicks the same thing as handshakes, or lists a synonym for friendships? Do the words you use to describe online behavior have any relevance in the real world?

It's hard to acknowledge, let alone resist, the echo chamber of brand marketing. We tend to hear from people who are all riffing on the same theme. We "do" marketing the ways we're supposed to do it, and any debate tends to focus on what variation best suits our circumstances.

Chances are the greatest weakness in your planning isn't some newfangled technology toy but rather the assumption you assume is God's law. Since marketing is a hell of an experience these days, you might as well enlist the right, er, minions.

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