Is marketing becoming a cargo cult?

Premise: what is a “cargo cult”?

A “cargo cult” is a very peculiar sociological dynamic, in which people imitate something from a merely cosmetic level, in hope it’ll bring the effects of the actual phenomenon they’ve witnessed.

For instance: primitive tribes who’ve been helped from “the modern world”, replicated the appearance of landing strips and air traffic control towers, in hope they’ll magically bring more cargo planes full of supply (hence the name “cargo cults”, by the way). Clearly not understanding how the real nature of the phenomena they’ve observed (e.g. The tower control isn’t there just for looks: it’s got the equipment and trained personnel required to coordinate airplane landings).

Here’s some photos to better explain the phenomena:

Is this what’s happening to marketing?

Scouting around, you might notice there’s a lot of doing but not much understanding: people are acting, but it’s not clear there’s a pipeline who connects their actions to the desired goal. That, being marketing, should be remembered it’s only one: profit. Either increasing it (e.g. Making sure a new product is sold), or preserving it (e.g. Making sure it is explained an old defective product is now fixed).

What does it mean “pipeline who connects actions to goals”?

It means having a clear vision about how your actions are going to contribute to the final goal – a bit like a domino fall: your first domino might be very far from where the line ends, but it has nonetheless started the chain reaction who will end up knocking the last domino down. Or, in entrepreneurship: “making it happen” from a financial standpoint (e.g. An audience purchasing a new product).

Some live tests you can make yourself

Next time you see an ad campaign, ask them: 

How is this supposed to help sell more/keep selling?

How are you going to calculate its ROI?

Which are very basic marketing questions – same that the great David, long ago, asked himself in every planning session: 

That, transferred to the cargo cult phenomena in those primitive tribes, would’ve been:

How are these coconuts and palm leaves supposed to bring a cargo plane full of supplies?

So as to say: don’t take my word – go out and test it.

FAQ: “They’ve answered me ‘It’s to improve branding: it isn’t supposed to sell’: isn’t that right?”

No it’s not: branding is just a tool, whose final purpose is to A. Sell more B. Keep selling. Hence: if you’re not selling more, or stabilizing sales, your branding isn’t working. 

Let me translate this situation in another one:

You: “What are you doing?

Car repairer: “I’m checking the ECU

You: “Is that going to fix my car?

Car repairer: “No: fixing ECU is about fixing the ECU

You: “Yeah but I’ve come here to fix my car: what’s the point of doing that if it’s not going to help fix the car?

Car repairer: “Don’t be so negative – and I don’t like your attitude!

You: “I’m calling the police.