Skip to Main Content

5 shiny new marketing fads that aren’t really new at all

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 26th March 2013


A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare

I blame Mashable. Well not just Mashable but, in our always-on, real-time, 24/7 digital world, Mashable seems to embody the need to have ‘breaking news’ every single minute.

But what happens is that, because there isn’t enough news, we are left with endless speculation and trends which, more often than not, are just new ways of saying the same old things.  Using different words.

Electrocuting cows?

It’s a trend (a proper trend) that Jon Steel flags in his seminal book on planning, “Truth, Lies and Advertising“:

“there is too much time to fill on television and too much space to fill in print, and not enough news to fill it. Social trends are great for journalists, because someone else has already done the work of identifying the trend, and that person simply needs to be interviewed and edited to fit the required format.

“So what happens is that the media runs a story about, say, people eating less red meat these days, along with footage of clogged arteries and cows being electrocuted, and people in the world at large see the story. Researchers then ask how people feel about red meat and they in turn play back what they saw on TV. The researchers report the responses to the Pork Council, or whomever; the council runs an advertising campaign positioning pork and white meat; and the media then run a story on the advertising, citing it as evidence of a social trend.”

This long preamble is merely my way of demonstrating a certain frustration I have recently with the seemingly endless ‘marketing fads’ that are cropping up.

Most of them are essentially what we’ve always been doing. But they are dressed up as shiny new things so that we can blog/sell/chat about them.

Here are five examples:

1. Content marketing

Ok, this is a big one. For all the years I’ve been in PR, I’ve run what we now have to call content marketing campaigns. It’s been a fundamental part of what we do. And now we have content marketing agencies springing up all over the place, content marketing guides (ours is coming soon) and top tip posts left, right and centre.

Content matters – we get it. And yes, with the web there are more opportunities to create, distribute and measure the impact of content than ever before.

But, fundamentally, great content has always been at the heart of good marketing (and especially PR). That is, unless you think we need a new buzzword (HT to Kate for that gem)?

2. Influencer outreach

This is a term beloved by SEO firms everywhere.

But it’s what PR has always been about. Yes, traditionally, in the days before the social web opened this up considerably, it basically meant media and analyst outreach (though good PRs have always targeted people outside these circles that had powerful, networked, offline influence).

Many in the PR industry have been slow to realise how influencer outreach in the digital age is really what we’ve always been doing, just on steroids.

3. Thought-leadership/AuthorRank/SEO authority

There’s no doubt that the social web has made ‘being an individual’ easier and more important. What’s the last update on Twitter from a brand you remember versus an update from an actual human being?

It stands to reason that we are more likely to engage and respond to people than brands and – especially in B2B – that’s pretty powerful for marketing. AuthorRank and the influence of individual authors on SEO and social media demonstrates this.

But building influence around a person is also something that, again, isn’t new to PRs. It’s called thought leadership. We’ve done it for years too.

Move along, nothing to see here…

4. Multimedia

Video, infographics or just good old fashioned images – we’re all mad about multimedia these days.

But the power of pictures is not a fresh concept, oh no.

In fact, the well-known phrase “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” actually first appeared in a 1911 newspaper article discussing journalism and publicity and was then subsequently used in advertisements over the next few years.

It’s still true, the web hasn’t changed that, it’s just made it easier.

5. Data

Again, our obsession with data has stemmed from the fact that it’s just so easy these days to access it and use it to report the success or otherwise of marketing activities (although actually finding the right, actionable data is often neither easy or cheap).

But just because something is now easy doesn’t mean it’s new.

Data has always formed a part of marketing campaigns. Just look at the growth of planning and data-driven decisions that took root in advertising agencies in the 70s and 80s.

What is true though is that many marketers have been slow to adopt data-driven planning and measurement, in part because it has been hard/expensive to do.

These excuses are harder to justify these days.

I’m by no means innocent in this need to discuss the latest ‘new thing’. But fundamentally I’m a great believer in the fact that, no matter what new channels or tools come along, much of what has always been true in terms of PR and marketing remains so.

Yes the way we deliver and measure campaigns will change, but often, the underlying strategy will stay the same.

Danny Whatmough