How we got conned by evangelical celebrity marketers (and how to cleanse thyself brother).

Picture the scene. A huge event in London, San Francisco or Berlin. An overly-enthusiastic marketing visionary takes to the stage to preach to his congregation. Daftpunk provide the thumping bass.


The crowd whoops and hollers and applauds, and promises to buy more tickets and licences and books. They hold up their branded thermo-coffee mugs and wear their lanyards (complete with flare and pin badges) like a badge of honour. They are true converts to the ways of [insert celebrity/company name here]. They are the chosen ones.


Then they all go out and get blind drunk and mumble to each other that there is literally no way in a million years their company could ever actually do all this stuff . And where the hell is Stacy? Did she sneak off with Brian from Field Sales again?


Yeah, so evangelical celebrity marketers. They are a thing. I don’t know about you but I see an interesting shift happening. That dawning realisation that many of our industry celebrities may just be very clever snake oil salesman.  And that tummy-churning feeling that we might’ve been duped. Grrrrr. Damnit, you’re better than that.


More interestingly our company Protocol is seeing clients and companies beginning to reject and rebel against the whole movement – which is frankly awesome. Reject, I hasten to add in favour of common sense, pragmatism, good hard honest work, clever ideas and experience.


So, who are these celebrities you speak of?

Ha! I’m not saying, I don’t want to be sued – but you know damn well who they are. Of course we didn’t really have such celebrities until relatively recently. I mean we had the industry pioneers and stalwarts – the Ogilvy/Branson types but not the new breed of social media celebrities that do the speaker circuit. Or hold these massive annual conferences, not really. No these are a relatively new and dangerous breed. Yes I said dangerous.


These are the celebrities that have grown to stardom using social media and live events. The inexplicable rise of celebrity culture spilling over into the business world. Usually charismatic extroverts with oodles of passion, good hair, open shirts and lots to say, not much of it generally new or useful.

The Kanye and Kardashians of the B2B marketing world. Eww. Instead of being seduced with cleavage and naked selfies we get lured by frameworks, guaranteed strategies and the latest best practice.


So what is the con?

It’s multiple. In order to maintain the attention and keep people coming back there are several elements at play to control the congregation audience:


1.     Over-complication.
Essentially what the bankers did back in 2007. Take something simple and create as many complex phrases and acronyms as possible. Bullshit Bingo anyone? Marketing, banking and J R R Tolkien are all great at creating fictional new languages. The purpose – to make people feel dumb and inadequate. To instil a sense of fear that unless you keep absorbing, paying and consuming you will not be competent or knowledgable. Which is funny because marketing to me is about making the complex simple, not simple complex. But hey.


2.     Constant change.
Don’t stay still – come up with something new every few months, and certainly every year (at least in time for the annual conference). The purpose – keep people on their toes, have them always playing catchup. Always have a reason to keep them engaged because new is better and old is yesterday (and yesterday is bad). Hence the phrases ‘Modern Marketing’, or ‘Content Marketing’ etc. It’s just marketing folks.


3.     Keep everything theoretical.
Be big picture. Blue sky. Big words. Talk about utopian visions. It creates an easy narrative to sell without being drawn into the weeds. Purpose – if you don’t get drawn into operationalising things, you can’t really go wrong 😉


4.     Personality Trumps reason.
Doesn’t it just? I hope that’s not a prophecy. Soundbites from a convincing orator can be seductive and compelling. And personality is BFF with popularity. If somebody is very popular (and has a million followers) then they must be good. And it is easy to say things that are popular, rather than say what is right and unpopular.

Well, you know I just say Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump to that. Purpose – create a cult following with selfies and live shows. If you can, have badges and pins and slogans and maybe tshirts.


5.     Dubious data
Obviously as marketers we’re the Kings and Queens of the success story. We invented it and we own it. I don’t know about you but when I see Mega Corporation on stage explaining how they went from X to N sales using this new wonder framework – I just don’t buy it. Again – why would they share it with the competition? Or is this just a careers sales pitch? The Purpose is plain and simple – use big brands to lend the necessary credibility.


6.     Get rich quick
The other thing you see a lot is these guaranteed ways to drive MQLs, convert 95% of opportunities, demonstrate 500% ROI. You wouldn’t fall for it if someone showed up on your front door, we shouldn’t fall for it just because someone is up on a stage. There are no guaranteed get rich quick schemes. You know it, I know it.


Hunger and Consumption

It all stems from our vampiric need to consume. The ever-increasing circle/cycle of supply and demand. Partly it stems from our societies switch from ‘production to consumption’ mentality. Big brands see that as their cue to start creating content for the sake of content, because everyone wants content (despite the fact you manufacture paperclips for a living).

Like when you sit on the loo with your iPhone flicking through Facebook and LinkedIn looking for something interesting to distract you for 3 nano-seconds. Oh yes you do. The expectation, the desire to consume lots of stuff everyday, hundreds of little snippets of things. We’re obsessed by it and rarely sated. And we frankly love celebrity, famous is good – and if you’re not famous at least try and get seen, tweeted or selfied with someone famous. But we know it’s all a load of rubbish.


Trust yourself, free yourself

I’m a consultant. A big part of my job is listening to companies or marketers strategic plans and providing feedback. A sanity check. More and more I find myself telling clients to ignore trends or best practice from these celebs, because it doesn’t apply to their company or situation. Besides, they have a hundred times more experience in their industry. They have the answer already. The problem is the celebrity movement can whip up so much momentum (behind wrong ideas) that it makes clever people doubt themselves. And that’s just not cricket.


Come-uppance and CTRL-ALT-DEL

As I said at the top I do feel the winds of change a blowin’. The trouble with a lot of celebrity culture stuff is that it can rise and fall in a heartbeat. Partly because things just go out of fashion (a victim of its own success), something sexier and newer comes along or you learn the original promises don’t stack up.

And it is the last point that I feel is making many of our clients stop and think. Ultimately the promises didn’t materialise, or they consumed all they could consume, or just developed a massive sense of fatigue from reading endless and increasingly complex best practice guides. Like drinking from a fire hose and not being able to absorb, let alone operationalise 5% of what they heard.


Our advice

For what it is worth, from a consulting company with an agenda, and the Zeddiest of Z list celebrity speakers as a leader – is simple. Just switch off from it all for a bit. Like the government gives advice on alcohol consumption – go a few days, weeks or months without. Let your body and mind heal.

Ignore the distractions, trust in yourself and your colleagues – sure get some advice here and there but don’t build your entire marketing plan based on some blurry iPhone photo taken at a keynote celeb presentation by some know-it-all. Because they really don’t know it all.

Feel free to come and see me at B2B Marketing Expo in May at London Excel. I don’t feel a talk is successful unless I get at least one heckle or someone walks out in disgust 😉


About Protocol

Protocol empowers professional marketers to optimise their demand centres, design best-in-class demand generation programmes, deliver operational excellence and leverage the latest marketing technologies.

Through our mix of hands-on consulting, training, workshops, coaching and advisory services our all inclusive Marketing-as-a-Service pricing plans are ideal for organisations (big and small) looking to optimise both their strategic, operational and technical approach to marketing, demand centres, integrated multi-channel marketing programmes, prospect acquisition, automated nurture, audience definition, key messaging, content strategy, data sciences and analytics.


Learn more at

Share this Post