Stating the Obvious

August 28, 2010 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: business, creativity, marketing, philosophy, tech.

I don’t know when I came up with the tag line “Stating the bleedin’ obvious since 1970” for this blog but I seem to recall it was a reaction to the level of hero worship that is afforded to those who merely… state the bleeding obvious.

Stating the obvious - Flooding ImminentI’m talking about leading figures in the industry, in my case those on the web in business and marketing, who have a propensity to get the utmost adulation for the most patently obvious of statements and “ideas”.

It probably all started way back in the day when all there seemed to be was Jakob Nielsen popping up in interviews in magazines (Cre@te, .net) touting the idea that you should write basic HTML content in websites and then link articles etc – the basic building blocks of usability. (Actually the fundamentals of hypertext, but who am I to argue?) Jakob Nielsen then went on to hammer nails into the coffin of Flash and JavaScript. ’nuff said.

Nielsen seems to have been replaced by Seth Godin these days, although in a slightly tangential field, as the modern day guru [Other gurus may be available] Godin recently stated, as pointed out in Seth Godin’s Social Media Experiment post over at Robert Clay’s Marketing Wizdom blog, that (my distillation of the points here), with regards to marketing on twitter:

  1. Quality is better than quantity (in terms of number of followers) and
  2. All you have to do is write viral content

Point 1 is so bleedin’ obvious that it hardly warrants talking about. Everyone knows that quality is better than quantity, right?

As for point 2, where all you have to do is write content that will “go viral” – That’s easier said than done. Godin has the luxury of making that statement from a place in time where has the reputation and traction in order to make his own statements “viral”. They are not, in themselves (in my opinion), viral. In context of Godin’s status in the industry they become so.

Viral content, to me, is of the ilk of the Honda Hate Something, Change Something campaign back in, when, 2004/2005? With its sunny animation and catchy tune, the ad campaign caught the attention of so many people – Even my late father surprised me by sending me  an official postcard from the Honda campaign all the way from sunny Devon.

Gassy, orange-coloured, sugar-filled soft drink brands have also benefited  from truly viral marketing – Who can forget You know when You’ve been Tango’d? Or how about  The Pot Noodle Horn or The Slag of all Snacks?

Not being a follower, I don’t know who Seth Godin’s target audience is nor who the actual demographic might be, but by insinuating that brand managers and marketers should spend less time chasing followers and more time creating viral content is both a great & obvious sentiment yet also potentially falling on fallow ground.

Who actually creates constant and regular viral campaigns, viral content? How big are these teams? Are there any/many single minds? Do they have the time or the budget to dedicate to only creating viral content? How much time and budget is actually involved in “doing viral”? Do these people have off-days? Is there a time when the well runs dry or the muse escapes? Where did Seth Godin start? Did he have thousands of retweets of his very first comments/thoughts? How long was it before they gained traction? At what point and with what variables in place did he attain critical mass?

So if there’s a great big market out there for making money out of stating the bleeding obvious then maybe I’m in the wrong job? If you can garner squeals of delight, gasps of awe, go viral and get paid every time you say things like “You’ll get more customers if you pick up the phone every single time it rings” then maybe I should start right now?

Here’s one, you can have this for nothing:

“Your computer will be more productive if you switch it on.”

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5 comments on “Stating the Obvious

  1. You are right Paul. More and more websites are just writing non-practical advice that are just good in writing and far away from actually making you money.

    I’ve been trying lately to ignore them (take them off my RSS) and focus on simply updating websites and improving conversions.

    Good post by the way

  2. Hi Nima, thank you for your kind comment, much appreciated.

    Indeed, the concept of providing genuinely practical advice is something I’ve been trying to impress upon clients recently. If Seth Godin is empowering people who need his little pearls of wisdom and they can start producing “quality over quantity” then that is practical and beneficial.

    However, I think he went too far with the “viral” concept – where’s the practical advice on how to produce viral? Personally, I think viral campaigns and content are few and far between and there is no magic formula – They involve more “luck and a fair wind”. The latest concept that I saw go viral on twitter was twifficiency but most people I know skipped using it because they knew they’d be more efficient by not bothering to look at it.

    I know where you’re at with reducing the RSS feed too – I just had to remove the Office of National Statistics because they flooded my channel with a lot of great but ultimately irrelevant data (when I only want to focus on the small business data).

  3. Thanks Becky. It seems that there is a huge audience out there for remedial concepts – maybe I should quit doing all the hard work and focus on providing more profitable line of consumerism?

  4. Paul
    You ask (i guess rhetorically ) what target Mr. Seth Godin writes for. I guess it is for those who have willingly suspended their skepticism and the need to analytically evaluate ideas based on their own merit and not on how popular it is.

    Part of stating blindingly obvious is cloaking it under the labels of experiment and numbers. The so called magical viral growth Mr. Seth Godin states is a simple artifact of using two different numbers. Why bother with the graphs? Utter drivel comes to mind.

    He does not even take into consideration
    What is the effect of randomness in this?
    Who said people with 10,000 followers won’t have factors >1?
    What makes the idea viral and sustain its rate after few iterations?
    Can any idea retain its 1.5 or 1.7 rate iteration after iteration?

    He will most likely answer these with, “Be remarkable, produce remarkable content an it will go viral”. What is remarkable, you ask? “Remarkable means it is something that can be remarked on”.


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