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Ask most secondary school aged kids how to prevent scurvy, a disease they will have had little contact with and they will tell you, with Vitamin C.

The use of ascorbic acid, or at least citrus fruit that have high levels of one of the few vitamins our bodies don’t manufacture, has been known for centuries.

In 1747 James Lind undertook one of the very first-ever clinical trials in which he proved the power of citrus fruit in curing sailors of scurvy. And from the late 18th Century it became routine for British sailors to be administered lemon juice while at sea.

But something weird happened at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century. We forgot this.

When Scott attempted his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole between 1911 and 1912 the presence of scurvy was all too real in his men. Many fell ill to a disease that had been effectively cured over 100 years before. This on an expedition fuelled by the latest scientific thinking.

Science had forgotten how to cure scurvy, blinded by a whole host of new and fashionable thinking particularly a belief that the cause was rotten meat. It took until 1932 for Vitamin C to be clearly identified and nutrition put back on the front foot when it came to scurvy.

This story seems beyond belief. That a simple truth identified (if perhaps not fully understood) years before should be swept away by fashion and fad with disastrous consequences. But that’s precisely what has been happening in marketing. In the face of technological disruption we are forgetting the way that marketing works.

This phenomenon has been best documented in a recent article in the FT by Ian Leslie that should be required reading for any one in marketing. In particular he references Byron Sharp’s work in trying to re-establish the laws of marketing before its too late.

So what is it that we are forgetting? What marketing truths do you routinely hear being ignored, contradicted or compromised? Here are my top ten marketing truths, many of which are drawn directly from Professor Sharp.

  1. Seeking greater penetration is almost always the winning strategy rather than attempting to shift average weight of purchase.
  1. Light buyers are your most valuable customers not loyalists. Virtually every brand needs more light buyers.
  1. Buying is the desired outcome from marketing not engagement, participation or conversation. We are obsessed by the wrong metrics.
  1. People never care enough about brands to want to be followers, friends or fans. Not at a scale that is commercially useful.
  1. Brands need to ensure their mental availability but its fanciful and hideously expensive to remain ‘always on’ and few people want them to be.
  1. Targeting is not the holy grail of marketing. It’s helpful to a point but rests on assumptions about human behaviour that are unpredictable and misleading.
  1. Wastage is under-rated. One way or another wastage is a conversation with tomorrow’s customers.
  1. There is no earned media. With a few highly notable exceptions, for most brands, all media is paid for media.
  1. There is no one way advertising works. Any campaign can work in many different ways and often in ways that were not explicitly intended. And a great campaign will improve all your metrics.
  1. Advertising works best with the consent of people. Consent that is best built when advertising is helpful, enjoyable and interesting. The digital inventory of today is destroying this consent day by day.

Don’t succumb to fashionable thinking and theories that lack any evidence of effect. And instead remember the timeless wisdom of this business. Because let’s face facts, rotten meat may not be very good for you but does not and has never caused scurvy.

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