Your Customers Don’t Want the Science of Silly

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Jay Baer Blog PostGiven my travel schedule and general lack of patience, I don’t watch much live television. I was one of the first Americans to buy a DVR, and the concept of time-shifting (and commercial skipping) fit snugly into my life the way Alex Rodriguez fits snugly into every PED scandal.

Last night was an exception. I took the opportunity (or made the mistake) of watching Saturday Night Live as it was broadcast. It was a repeat episode from months ago, with Christoph Waltz as host. The show itself was wildly inconsistent and uneven, as SNL so often is. But the commercials were uniformly consistent in that every one of them was head-scratchingly poor. Opaque. Self-referential. Failed attempts at humor. More than 60 years past the invention of the television ad, and THIS is the best we can muster?

Marketing is Harder Than Ever

I recognize that the challenges faced by major brands are substantial, and getting bigger. Successful marketing has never been more difficult, as consumers are adrift in a sea of invitation, with companies of every size, shape and description trying to reach them through an always-expanding nexus of media, both traditional and newfangled. The consequence is a consumer populace that is weary and wary of message and mechanism.

To fight through this clutter, brands (especially on television, but elsewhere, too) seem to be employing a “science of silly” strategy, dressing up their naked appeals to buy now with quirky characters, outlandish situations, and non sequiturs.

This won’t work.

Westin WorkoutConsumers don’t want hype, even hype disguised with a veneer of wacky. We want help. (tweet this)

We want help solving our problems, both significant and commonplace. We want help improving our lives. We want help making sense out of world fraught with uncertainty. Brands have the resources and wherewithal to provide this assistance, to create marketing that’s actually WANTED by consumers, instead marketing that’s NEEDED by companies.

This new offer from Westin hotels, providing guests workout equipment for a nominal fee is a perfect example. This, I love. This, I can use. This, I’ll remember. This should be the star of a television commercial.

But, unfortunately, this is the exception.

Creating Youtility

This kind of truly, useful marketing (which I call “Youtility” in my forthcoming new book) is all about hyper-relevance and communicating to customers in context. Doing this well requires a combination of customer understanding, nimble content creation and marketing execution, smart use of analytics, and a commitment to helping, not selling.

It’s a marketing framework for the age of information overload. It’s also neatly aligned with the concept of the Chief Executive Customer – the need to appeal to win the hearts and minds of today’s mobile and social-enabled consumer by delivering relevant, useful and profound customer experiences.

Talking Youtility at Smarter Commerce Global Summit

The “Chief Executive Customer” is at the heart of IBM’s Smarter Commerce philosophy, and will be discussed and dissected at the upcoming Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2013 in Nashville. The event will bring together a powerful combination of best practices and IBM client success stories, thought leadership, new technology, new services, marketing experts, procurement and supply chain experts and a variety of industry perspectives.

I’m the host for the Smarter Commerce Global Summit, and am also delivering a keynote version of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype. I’m excited to address this amazing conference of thousands of worldwide business leaders, and help think through the efficacy of using marketing to inform rather than promote. Today’s consumers are smarter than ever, and we have to meet them on their terms, with marketing that’s smarter, too. 

Other speakers include executives from Tesco, Target, USAA, Bank of Montreal, United Airlines, Cigna, Jaguar Land Rover, Target and hundreds more. There’s also a social media VIP group attending, including Pam Moore, Daniel Lemin (from Convince & Convert), Peter Shankman, Ted Rubin, Paul Gillin, Bryan Eisenberg, Bryan Kramer, Dino Dogan, and Glen Gilmore.

It’s going to be a tremendous event, and it’s a real honor to be asked to host. For more details on the event, visit this page.



Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Thanks for the mention Jay. I agree wholeheartedly and feel that is why emotionally connected content is so important today. Most often we remember the silly ads for all the wrong reasons and often do not even remember the purpose of the ad.

  2. Graciousstore says

    I do wonder how many people do buy the “science of silliness” advertising employ to attract consumers’ attention

  3. Dan says

    Are recordings of the keynote and sessions, audio or video, made available for those of us who are unable to attend? Sounds like a great conference.

  4. Milou8 says

    Our hyper relevance is based on understanding the personality types of our prospects and customers and sending highly targeted messaging. The see and hear us above the overwhelming din.. most of the time!

  5. says

    Excellent post, Jay. Love the title: Chief Executive Customer: “The New Marketing Boss.” And that’s a starry galaxy of speakers. Looking forward to catching the event online.

    I agree the science of silly doesn’t cut it (with today’s smarter, connected, in-the-know customers), However, at times, silly funny works – when done well and in consumer context (when humor is within brand persona and the audience can relate.) For example, the Mentos commercials… – I enjoyed them enough to share them with you. Chew on them if you find a moment to spare. I’d love your thoughts…

    ps: The “YOUtility” hyper-relevance concept sinks in deeper more I read about it. Best Wishes for the success of your new book. And Good Luck with hosting IBM SCGS 2013.

    • says

      Thanks Amar. Glad to hear Youtility is working for you. I love the Mentos commercials. Several other examples I can think of that use wacky effectively. My problem is that brands seems to think it’s a panacea, when Mentos, et al is the exception that proves the rule.

      • says

        Too true, Jay. Funny for funny’s sake is just silly. Won’t work. But, marketing that stems from within the core brand / customer experience, eg. Kmart’s #shipmypants, is a Youtility. I see your point. (Lightbulb moment :-)

        Here’s a gem of a quote from Ted Rubin’s #RonR feed. Resonates deeply with Youtility: “I’ve learned people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

  6. Paul P says

    Sorry, Jay, like most of your stuff, but you are missing the mark here by focusing on what appeals to you, not on what it means to build a brand. Have you looked at what gets millions of youtube views? Marketing is about selling, and sometimes puppies, babies and wacky get the job done (but not always). Nice that you like the Westin ad, but that doesn’t mean it is going to work for everyone. That is why Holiday Inn Express is gaining market share with their wacky, failed-attempts-at humor thanks to great insight from the team at Oglivy. However, your point that marketing, i.e. connecting with your audience, is harder than ever in this fragmented media universe is right on. What many companies fail to realize is that for the investment to pay off, you really need to understand the who, what, why and how of what you are trying to do.

  7. says

    This is an excellent post, @jasonbaer:disqus. Thanks for sharing it with us. My only question is, how many people (or better to say customer) do really buy the ‘science of silly’?

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