If there was only one bit of advice I could give about marketing, and how to get the results you want, it would be this – don’t be boring.  Kind of obvious really.  Be boring and be invisible.

Yet how many marketing campaigns these days really grab the attention?  OK, you’ll  be able to name one or two favourites, but that’ll be about 0.001% of the total.  The rest pass through our consciousness without touching the sides.

How come?  Too many marketing people are wrapped up SEO, CRM, ROI, PPC, CPC, OTS, OPM, T4M, CTR*.  And not enough reminding themselves what all this geekery is intended to achieve.

Remember who pays your wages

Your job in marketing is not to appear super busy.  It’s not to look clever.  It’s not to create documents, mood boards and spread sheets.  It’s not to be “passionate”.  It’s not to build your personal brand.  It’s not to spend your whole day in meetings where nothing gets decided.  Your job in marketing, ultimately, is to arrest human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.  And boring doesn’t cut it.

You got to get sharp. 

One of Shakespeare’s better lines (IMHO) is “Brevity is the soul of wit”.  He then stuck it in the mouth of a particularly long winded character, Polonius, for humorous effect, in one of his darkest plays, Hamlet. He could never resist slipping in a bit of comedy when writing a tragedy.

In Shakespeare’s day wit meant something slightly different.  It denoted “ingenuity, intelligence, the power of combining ideas with a pointed verbal effect” (Chambers Dictionary).  The effect might be humorous, but was more likely to excite admiration – being regarded as a “wit” was rather different from being a comedian (or “fool” as they were known at that time – see King Lear).  Today it is more usually associated with laughter, but often it is rather more subtle than that – it is an intellectual and verbal playfulness that creates a “Smile in the mind” (see book of same name).


Whatever your personal definition of wit I think we can all agree that one of its key attributes is a verbal or visual economy.   And it takes brevity to achieve the kind of sharpness required to puncture the mental bubble inhabited by the individuals within your target audience.

Keep your wits about you

How do you get that sharp?  The Chambers Dictionary definition above refers to the process of “combining ideas”.  To combine ideas you must have ideas to combine.  It takes a well-stocked mind – if the mental cupboard is bare, wit will elude you.  So, as Grace Slick sings in the 60’s anthem “White Rabbit”, you’ve got to “Feed your head”.

Another way is to mix with minds that are sharper than your own.  It’s like sport – play with people who are better than you and you raise your game, but play with those who are worse than you and you lower it.  You can do it by choosing your friends wisely, but it’s also smart to read wits widely.

Proceed with caution.  Sharp tongues ahead

A few famous wits you could use to whet your own against:

Dorothy Parker:

My favourite remark of hers is “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”  But she had many other crackers:

“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” 

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” 

“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.” 

Samuel Johnson:

“A fishing rod is a stick with a hook at one end and a fool at the other.”

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.”

“Much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.”

George Bernard Shaw:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

“Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.”

Oscar Wilde:

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

“I can resist anything but temptation.”

On foxhunting:  “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.”

Words are the oldest trick in the book.  But they still work

Marketing people are so busy talking bollocks about the latest fad, app, platform or algorithm that they’ve largely forgotten the ultimate purpose of this techno crap – getting a human being to put their hand in their pocket and pay money for whatever you are flogging.

Words are weapons of mass persuasion.  The fact that most marketing practitioners don’t have the skill to use them to great effect does not invalidate them.  Quite the reverse – killer headlines and sharp copy are so rare that this only heightens their power to stop people in their tracks then win hearts and minds.


*PPC Pay Per Click, CPC Cost Per Click, OTS Opportunities To See, OPM Outsourced Program Management, T4M Tools For Marketing, CTR Click Through Rate.