February 4, 2009

introducing futilemarketing.com


I just bought the URL, www.futilemarketing.com.

I'm not planning on turning it into another website, nor am I planing to launch a new business called "Futile Marketing". It's just a name I very much wanted to own.

Why? Because "Futility", as a marketing strategy, is an idea that's currently fascinating me.

Conventional Wisdom dictates, if you're trying to market something, the last thing you want your marketing campaign to be is "An Act of Futility".

But... are you REALLY sure about that?

I was thinking recently how most of the stuff I'm most proud of, started off as acts of futility.

-Drawing cartoons on the back of business cards started off as an act of futility.
-Getting an English tailor to blog in the hope of selling more $5,000 suits started off as an act of futility.
-Launching a national UK supermarket wine via the blogosphere started off as an act of futility.
-Getting Microsoft to re-think about who they are using nothing but a single cartoon started off as an act of futility.
-Choosing a highly irritating puppet to launch a major new French wine started off as an act of futility.
-Convincing one of the most respected publishers in the world to turn a blog post into a hardcover book started off as an act of futility.
-Getting West Texas cowboys to start drinking South African wine started off as an act of futility.

And if you think about it, the world is full of other, similar examples.

-Getting people to pay $4 for a cup of coffee started off as an act of futility.
-Getting people to give up their horses en masse in exchange for an internal combustion engine started off as an act of futility.
-Getting people to pay for software without any hardware attached to it started off as an act of futility.
-Building a multi-million dollar cottage industry using nothing but blog advertising started off as an act of futility.
-Writing a children's book about wizards in an Edinburgh coffee shop started off as an act of futility.
-Trying to halt the Nazi invasion using nothing but Spitfires started off as an act of futility.
-Stopping the largest army the world had ever seen with just a small phalanx of 300 Spartans started off as an act of futility.
-Trying to blow up the Death Star using nothing but thirty X-Wing fighters started off as an act of futility.
-Convincing the USA to elect an African-American as their President started off as an act of futility.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking...?

Posted by hugh macleod at February 4, 2009 6:47 PM | TrackBack

Yes, I am thinking that. I've been using something similar since my teens.

It's the "Mom thinks it'll never work" method.

The motivation of proving Mom wrong makes it that much more fun.

Posted by: michael at February 4, 2009 7:56 PM

Great list. The Hurricane was the quintessentially futile weapon that held its own in the Battle of Britain.

Posted by: Anthony David at February 4, 2009 8:17 PM

I hate to sound like a buzz-kill, Hugh, but none of the acts that you cite were really futile. They all had a result, although maybe not one that was predicted.

A futile act is one that is pointless - an act that has no possible positive outcome. Yet all of the acts that you cite had a point to begin with, but turned out to be the cause of something completely different and unintentional.

It's not really an 'act of futility' if there was a positive result in the end, regardless of what the result was.

Don't get me wrong; I'm totally picking up what you're layin' down, I'm just not sure that 'futile' is the right word for what you're getting at.

I would posit that you're after something closer to 'collateral marketing' (domain is still available, BTW).

Posted by: Mike at February 4, 2009 8:47 PM

Seems like the realization of the single most inspiring bit of HTBC - "Don't try to stand out from the crowd - avoid crowds entirely"


Posted by: Jeff Schmidt at February 4, 2009 9:48 PM

yep, wrote a big post about it earlier today, uncannily ("don't follow the money...") Rock on, as you say :)

Posted by: Alice Bachini-Smith at February 4, 2009 9:53 PM

That that last one about US President didn't match the rest, but you want buy in from those hope-change buzzfolks so run with it Hugh.

Posted by: Thomas at February 4, 2009 11:50 PM

@ Anthony David. Yep, the Hurricane did the work, the Spitfire got the girls ;-)

@Thomas I was writing about "Hope & Marketing" LONG before most people had heard of Obama.

Posted by: hugh macleod at February 5, 2009 12:04 AM

Depends. If you're thinking "[that] Resistance is futile" then yes, I am thinking what you are thinking.

Maybe acts that start in futility and end up yielding results should retrospectively be said to have started from an act of fruitility.

Posted by: daniel at February 5, 2009 1:44 PM

Loving the futile vibe - big connection for me with the idea that, in life and in business, it's the seemingly unimportant conversations that become the important ones over the long term. Or as the saying goes: you are what you eat, but it's your last 1000 meals that count

Posted by: Jon at February 6, 2009 7:00 AM

I like your thought process, Hugh. But one I think will not make your list is : "Decide to advertise your product in Green Bay without a Packer endorsement"

Posted by: Janet at February 6, 2009 7:52 AM

There's no way to know if I'm thinking what you're thinking, but I love looking at the pictures of what you're thinking. Reading what you're thinking is pretty great too! I'm glad I've subscribed.

Posted by: WebPixie at February 8, 2009 2:54 AM

Mike (third comment): I think it's understood by most people who read this post that "futile" is poetic shorthand for "seemingly futile".

Posted by: Keith Handy at February 8, 2009 9:17 AM

I think you're right, Mike (third comment) :D

Posted by: WebPixie at February 8, 2009 11:31 AM

Yes, I kind of get the point Hugh. And there is something about realising it's futile and doing it anyway.

Technically the examples you mention are (as others have said) 'seemingly futile'. But the point is that, at their inception, they appeared futile.

In fact most marketing is (statistically) futile because it doesn't work (at least as the textbooks would have you believe). So the answer is to try things and have fun with them - in the expectation of their almost certain futility.

Then look back in a few years' time to note, with some surprise, that a few worked!

Now, about that book idea...

Posted by: Phil at February 9, 2009 5:56 PM

You remind me of Bruce Mau:

"Keep moving.The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice."

Sometimes you have to take the ring and head out on the path, even when the ending is most likely firey doom.

Posted by: Nadia Lewis at February 9, 2009 5:59 PM