Words. A smorgasbord of crunchy, chewy, salty, sweet, bitter, tasty food for thought. You can overindulge in words, as in food. You can play with them to the point where your language arts teacher wants to slap you upside the head and say, “Stop playing with your words! Write!” My husband often annoys me with his arguments against the need for, nay, the very existence of, a thesaurus. When it comes to words, I want the 16 billion color box of crayons. Not the eight, not the twenty-four, not even the sixty-four — well, sometimes the sixty-four will do, in service of clear and unambiguous communication. Sometimes, we want to savor a nine-course meal with all the appropriate wine pairings, and sometimes, a plain and properly grilled strip steak will do.
Language evolves, as it should. Read Beowulf — in its original form — and argue with me on this, if you will. But we needn’t contort every word, twisting bad to mean good, and sick to mean amazing. This is just obfuscation and lunacy.
My friend, Mitch Mitchell, is a bit guilty of this. I hate to call him out, but for those of us without degrees in Marketing or Business Administration or Advertising, who are dabbling, as it were, in all three from time to time, it is essential to define words in ways that are commonly understood and agreed upon. This is why dictionaries exist. And while Mitch may want to bop me upside the head for calling him out, he did say, “I’d love to hear your take on it.” I’m giving him a link (well, three, technically) and telling you to go read his post, Marketing vs Promoting (I’m promoting, I’m promoting!!). You decide for yourself which one of us you agree with and why, and leave comments on both our blogs, please, with your thoughts on the topic.
Mitch writes, “Let’s talk about the concepts of ‘promotion‘ and ‘marketing‘ When one ‘promotes’ something, they’re supposed to be telling you that something is good based on their own experiences and they’re recommending it. When someone is ‘marketing’ something, they may or may not have any personal knowledge of ‘it’, but they’re trying to sell it anyway.”
Let’s look at some definitions (I’m linking to Dictionary.com and providing a shortened version relevant to this discussion):
Marketing: the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling
According to the American Marketing Association, it is “the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
Promotion: something devised to publicize or advertise a product, cause, institution, etc., as a brochure, free sample, poster, television or radio commercial, or personal appearance, to advance its rank or position, or to increase sales
On the subject of “promotion,” it appears that the American Marketing Association has simply given up — or left it to the ordinary dictionary. The word is listed under the letter “p” but has no definition.
Advertising, then, is part of both marketing (a broad, umbrella term covering the whole lifecycle of the product from manufacture to delivery) and promotion (the more specific term that involves increasing awareness of a product and generating more demand and more sales). Neither of these things really requires personal use of the product. The term for that is “endorsement.” The FTC has specific, common-sense guidelines — if you click that link — that govern the sort of endorsements bloggers regularly make on their sites. It’s worth a read.
Mitch is using the term “promotion,” then, in a way that really specifically refers to “endorsement” — which is a type of promotion. Endorsements carry the additional obligations he associates with promotion – that you have used or have personal knowledge of the product in question. An ad is a promotion, but if I run an ad in my sidebar, I don’t need to disclose to anyone that I was paid to run the ad. If I make a YouTube video gushing about how this thing is the best thing since the invention of sex, I’d better be completely truthful about my personal knowledge of it and whether I have any “material relationship” with the company that makes it. (For example, if I work for them or got paid by them to write a positive blog post, I need to tell my readers that! It doesn’t make me any more or less truthful than usual, but it adds a fact that enables readers to judge my credibility for themselves.)
I would argue that what Mitch was promoting is smoking cessation or improved health. As a human being who has ever been exposed to second hand smoke, whether he has ever smoked, himself, or not, he has personal knowledge and reason to care that people stop smoking. By mentioning or including ads for products designed to help them do that, he’s engaged in advertising, which is one component of marketing. He has not, however, endorsed these products — unless he claims to have personal knowledge that they work, or said he plans to try them on himself. He does always have an obligation – legally – to be truthful and forthcoming in his statements of fact, if he writes about products. (That said, if he says, “I don’t know jack sh** about this thing, but it looks cool, and you should click this link and buy it,” you’re on your own if you do. If, on the other hand, he knows there’s a 70% chance the thing will blow up in your face the first time you turn it on, but fails to mention that, he could be in deep trouble later.)
Later, Mitch said he was promoting Mailwasher — an app he had personal knowledge of, had used, and liked. This is endorsement, and endorsement is a very powerful form of promotion. You might also hear it referred to as a “testimonial.”
Anyway – words have meaning. Mitch was clear on how he thinks of, and uses, the term “promotion.” But I’m going with the dictionary, the American Marketing Association, and the FTC on this.