Super Bowl

There's Advertising and Marketing, and Then There's Elon Musk

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Credit: Space X, GettyImages, compliation by Mary Ellen Forte

I can think of few more challenging jobs right now than being a marketer.

One moment you're enjoying the fruits of a complex and demanding education, the next moment everything you've learned no longer applies, or barely.

I'm sure there are plenty modern so-called marketing gurus each of whom has the answer – each a different one, but in the end the current situation seems similar to Bill Goldman's famous declaration about the movie business, "Nobody knows anything."

According to all available evidence, marketers seem to believe that the safest bet is to corral all things digital. The digital era is indeed a wonderful godsend.

From feeling closer to those once so far away, to getting sick in a remote African village but being able to get the most advanced medical opinion in the world thanks to IBM's Watson.

Interestingly (and bordering on the amusingly), from my vantage point the lion's share of marketing efforts seem to be going into reducing digital to stuff like the direct marketing of old.

To the idea that the ability to live in people's pockets is the most exciting development, and that the most effective execution around this fact is to enact the 'modern' version of cramming people's letterboxes/doorsteps full of unwanted, unsolicited marketing materials.

Wow! Way to maximize the greatest technological gift in human history!

And then there's Elon Musk.

Elon doesn't do advertising and marketing. He certainly doesn't do digital. He just executes his vision.

That vision would probably sound glib if articulated—"Tesla is a symbol of human ambition and progress", perhaps.

Instead, Elon simply behaves in such a way that people ingest this truth—and it is a truth.

While mere mortals scrabble about spending millions to fight each other over seconds of air time in between a Super Bowl, Mr Musk is launching the most powerful rocket ever into space via his space exploration company SpaceX.

Remember how car makers love showing souped-up versions of their ordinary models or even their Grand Prix cars bearing their brand to show off their cutting edge tech credentials? Well. Elon Musk is launching the most powerful rocket ever into space.

Do we know this because he has advertised it? No, everybody with a pen, a microphone or a news camera is flocking to ask him and then writing about it or putting it on tv.

Meanwhile, small matters like the fact that Tesla has just had its worst quarter float beneath us.

Oh sorry—I said Elon Musk was launching a rocket, but did I mention that its payload is a Tesla Roadster?

"If we can send a Roadster to the asteroid belt, we can probably solve Model 3 production," averred Mr Musk, when asked by, well, the world.

As Business Insider among many others pointed out, you could watch the 'Roadster launch and lift-off' live stream on YouTube.

It was the greatest ever car commercial without a dime spent on advertising, said BI adding, "…Musk and SpaceX arranged photos of the Roadster to imply the car—and Tesla by extension—were symbols of human ambition and progress."

Yeah, yeah, all well and fine, but how does this concern me, a manufacturer of burgers? I hear you ask.

Well, what Elon Musk teaches is that he's isn't so much interested in people buying his cars as buying in to a certain vision of the planet—perhaps one without some of the atmospheric dangers potentially caused by combustion engines, for instance? (I say "potentially," because I have the knowledge of an ant on such matters.)

And Musk certainly isn't offering stuff like value for money—he's offering values for money.

Here, Elon is certainly miles ahead of the rest in understanding so-called millennials and those with a broader overview of society.

You don't have to be a millennial expert or a parent of teenagers to understand that vast tectonic plates of behavior are shifting in what we call the marketplace—something that coming, internet-raised generations call the world.

You think my 15-year old is buying your stuff? You better be sure that you have a solid, authentic, unimpeachable world position, because your marketplace positioning is less than irrelevant.

These people want to know your place in their day and your place in their world.

A couple marketers who did this badly in the Super Bowl actively enraged the millennials and GenZennials sitting around my TV. "Here's how deeply we feel for these things happening in the world—love, Ram/Toyota/whatever," does not do it.

A spot in which a company works hard to find a relevant way in which its products can help and hands over those products for free needs no production values. It just needs honesty: "We gave these people our trucks because they needed them, and the publicity certainly didn't harm us" is a tagline that people would happily buy.

But empty lip-service plus production value and no reward for the subjects? How very 20th century.

So, how does that observation help you if you make burgers? Go out and create a pop-up and make burgers for people who really need them. Start a serious program to attack obesity. Nothing means anything until it costs you something.

Elon knows this. He knows that the digital era is the greatest gift ever for those interested in the big picture, not the soulless, pre-programmed minutiae.

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