January 6, 2008

hughtrain revisited: finding meaning in marketing


In June, 2004 I drew the cartoon above, which ended up being called "The Hughtrain", affectionately named after The Cluetrain, of course.

I've re-published it here on this blog more times than I'd care to admit, but what the heck, there's something about it, some sort of marketing ideal that continues to inform my thinking.

It was drawn the month I read The Cluetrain for the first time. It was also the month I read Mark Earl's "Death of Marketing" and Tom Peters' "Re-imagine!" for the first time.

Needless to say, all three books changed my life somewhat [especially Mark's, as it turned out]. One evening after work, sitting at the bar, inspired by all the ideas inside these books, I cranked out the cartoon. And just to make sure people knew what the heck I was talking about, I cranked out what then became known as "The Hughtrain Manifesto".

We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.

We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

Some people find the whole "Marketing as Religion" angle a bit squeamish. Some people much prefer the straight-talking "This is what you get, this is how much it costs" way of doing business. I don't see anything wrong with that, if it's working for them.

But one thing I've noticed over time is, the search for personal meaning is a never-ending journey. It's something that all normal, healthy people share. And the way said meaning is found is mostly through Love. And Love is found not just in the intoxicating blur of romantic, sexual love, but in an endless myriad of ways. Most of them pretty ordinary and everyday.

But the ordinary and everyday is full of surprises. As a wise old preacher once told me when I was a kid, "Wherever God is, Love is. And God is Everywhere."

A few years after reading it, I am still moved by Anil Dash re-telling the words of his new father-in-law, told on the day Anil and his wife, Alaina got married.

Among the many things that were said, some of the words that my father-in-law shared with us struck me as the best lesson I learned in getting married. And like I said, it could seem simple, even obvious, when you read it on a screen, because it's so universal. But when you live it and make a public commitment to it, it becomes downright profound.

What he told us is that, in the end, only love matters. Success and fame and wealth and even health all fade in time, and in the end all you have is love. And love is what matters. I hope everyone in the world gets the chance to discover that in the way that I have. I love you, Alaina.

If I have succeeded in marketing in the past, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was not some form of marketing genius on my part. It was simply because, on some level, I gave a damn. On some level, I cared about the product, I cared about the people making and selling it, and I cared about the people using it. And as I found out, passion is surprisingly easy to share, even with folk you don't know. But it has to be there in the first place, and it's devilishly hard to fake.

Using a "social object" to tap into one's shared humanity with other people, whether it's in the guise of a commercial product or not, is both a great pleasure and a great honor. It's why we're here, after all. To Love.

And that's all marketing really needs to be in the end. An act of Love. An act of the universal human longing- the longing to bring the infinite into the realm of the finite. Four years later, The Hughtrain cartoon remains as relevant to me as ever.

[Bonus Link: The podcast I made with Mark Earls and Johnnie Moore over the weekend is now up on Johnnie's blog..]

Posted by hugh macleod at January 6, 2008 7:46 PM | TrackBack

That is certainly my favourite of all your cartoons.

I love it!

Posted by: Hrishi Mittal at January 6, 2008 8:46 PM

damn right. love what you do, and it will love you back.

Posted by: dan at January 6, 2008 8:48 PM

I think you have come to the crux of what ultimately sells/markets things.
Pardon my impertenance though but I would suggest that:
"We are here to help other people. Everything else is secondary." It is through this that we find meaning...

Posted by: Anton Mannering at January 6, 2008 8:57 PM

"it's devilishly hard to fake"

Hugh, it's also devilishly *easy* to make real love in every aspect of one's life. Love everything ... put love into everything. You've got it. Rock on ... and love.

Posted by: vicequeenmaria at January 6, 2008 9:02 PM

So beautifully put, Hugh.

I have never been able to understand the concept of selling without caring. sometimes, for me, that means walking away from money, or people, who really don't give a damn.

BTW that cartoon is one of my favorites among the many of yours that i love.

Posted by: B.L Ochman at January 6, 2008 9:09 PM

The best post you ever wrote. Cheers!

Posted by: Juho at January 6, 2008 10:44 PM

To speak to what you say, and Anton's comment above, love is usually about helping others or wanting to. Love is what makes us WANT to help.

In massage school, a place where business, a certain kind of intimacy, and a large amount of passion are present, we learned to love everyone. You have to to be willing to walk into a room and lay hands on them hour after hour, day after day. They trust you as they lay on your table, it's our responsibility as a therapist to set boundaries, to help, to encourage healing, rest and relaxation.

When I was in school, they told us over and over that out of our class of 11, only a couple of us would be practicing full time a year after we graduated. It's true - because its a job you have to LOVE to do.

I like to think that we're all working to make others happy - at least those of us who are marketing things. We sell them, market them, because we want someone to buy it, love it, be passionate about it too and the best marketing is done by people who feel that way about their product.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them, "I make people happy." Isn't that what we're all aiming for?

(sorry if my comments too long... I was sorting of thinking it out as I went.)

Posted by: Summer at January 6, 2008 11:04 PM

I'm very moved by this blog. It reminds me that the "essential fuel" for all our efforts--marketing or otherwise--is love, and outside of your house of worship, or the privacy of your bedroom, it's damn brave to bring it up. Speaking as a Jew, I'm aware of raising the eyebrows of my ancestors, but I'll say this: Jesus always appealed to me far more than any other religious figure precisely because he was always and only speaking of love. If religion can be viewed fundamentally as the marketing of specific paths to spiritual enlightenment, then give me the Jesus marketing plan any time. I'm not being glib. Tom Hopkins was onto this the other day, I think. As has been said, you can't fake it: the authentic expression of love is an arrow to the heart of "the other." Of course, given the vast denial of vulnerability that our society rewards....your heart will be broken every single day by going out on this limb. But not today. Today, you get a big thank you from your readers.

Posted by: rachel bellow at January 6, 2008 11:28 PM

Fantastic post...loved it..hope you well x

Posted by: Catherine at January 6, 2008 11:39 PM

Gorgeous, Hugh. Brilliantly put, again. You've been knocking them out of the park all month. You're getting it all so clear I'm afraid you'll transcend any minute. And then who will tell me what's going on?

Posted by: shelley noble at January 7, 2008 12:05 AM


I am so glad you exist today because i felt the love. god bless U

Posted by: pinny at January 7, 2008 12:22 AM


in the musical world I inhabit, I'm often referenced as the one who's great at 'self promotion', even though I feel like I'm treading water... The difference between me and those around me is just that I unapologetically LOVE the music I make. It's not that I think everyone should love it, just that it's the soundtrack to the inside of my head, and as such provides the right kind of noises to underscore what's going on in the world as I see it.

So what other people see as my marketing genius (yeah, right, a marketing genius who thinks he can make a living as a solo bassist...) is just me believing in what I do, and feeling like it can have meaning for the people who it resonates with.

The thing that most tells me that I'm on the right track is that almost everyone I've ever spoken to after one of my gigs is someone I'd want to go out for dinner with - I find my audience fascinating, thoughtful, funny and interesting. So if I'm soundtracking their world in some way as well, it all works.

Love the post, sir - as so often happens, the tough time you've been having of late seems to be the sand in the oyster, dredging up some hard-won but deeply important thoughts.


Posted by: Steve Lawson at January 7, 2008 1:39 AM

you're a passionate celt. you can't help that.

that cartoon is brilliant. even seth couldn't do that!

Posted by: vinny warren at January 7, 2008 3:24 AM

...Needless to say, all three changed book my life somewhat [especially Mark's, as it turned out]...

Did you mean "all three books changed my life somewhat"?

Posted by: Prig at January 7, 2008 8:14 AM

Hugh, I use this as my business card and when I offer it up, the recipient always has a "moment". We also used it as the heart of our work at NPR and I think that it still pulls them forward.

As you think of your book, please recall that much of your earlier work had and still has great power - the power of truth

All the best for 2008
(PS looking fwd to hearing the podcast)

Posted by: Rob Paterson at January 7, 2008 11:35 AM

Wow, this is the most beautiful blog post I've read in awhile! Thanks for expressing what so few do...

Posted by: Jacinta at January 7, 2008 2:48 PM

Love in deed. Thanks Hugh.

Posted by: Joseph Ferrara.sellsius at January 7, 2008 10:59 PM

Great to be reminded of these great books.

Posted by: Oskar at January 8, 2008 3:49 AM

What a lovely and refreshing blog post! It is so right on. Love is where it's at, and a life without love is drab, sad. Work without love is confusing, irrelevant.

I took an extensive course in cooking a few years back. I just didn't know how to cook well and kept making the same things over and over again. I knew there had to be a better way---I couldn't keep eating this boring stuff all my life, I couldn't keep ordering in take-out. So I found this program where everything they put into the food and the cooking and the presentation seemed so magical.

After communing with my fellowing students and our amazing teacher-chefs over a meal, I asked the program's director why the food was so amazing. He said, "We add extra Vitamin L."

I'd never heard of that. "What's Vitamin L?" I asked.

"It's LOVE!" he said, smiling. We all broke into laughter. My cooking is much better now.

Posted by: KG at January 8, 2008 6:45 AM

So glad you revisited this as I had forgotten how great this piece is....maybe the only social object is caring....the about is up to your passion. Maybe other social objects are merely subsets...great post

Posted by: Anna Farmery at January 8, 2008 12:49 PM

I was planning to set up a blog with just an endless list of insights/rules that count in life. E.g. I would just copy "HTBC" over...

But one headline would be "de-centralize love" - to unknown people we interact with, to projects we declare boring at first sight, to all the little things surrounding us daily. And getting the "l"-word out of its solely romantic context - making it a "tool" of heart.

(God knows if this sounds as good for an English as it does in my German head...)

Posted by: Daniel K at January 9, 2008 10:45 PM