My boss was learning to use Instagram for business. She wanted to create some inspirational-quote-style posts and was playing around in Photoshop with a surfing stock image and borrowed words; you know, something nice and fluffy copy-pasted from Google. The epitome of bad marketing.
She turned her computer screen to me to show the neat square she had been carefully working on. It included a cropped, pixelated barrel wave, dark text in some awful font (at least it wasn’t Comic Sans), which disappeared, unreadable, into the shadows of the photo. She asked me for my opinion.
“What do you think?”
I squirmed a little in my seat. I was still in my first few weeks on the job and had been the one to suggest playing around with Instagram in the first place. I tried to think of a less patronising way to say, “It’s a great first attempt. Shall we have another go later?” but instead, these words tumbled out of my mouth:
“I kinda hate it.”
A Lesson in Critiquing Bad Marketing
Luckily, my boss is brilliant! She trusts my judgement and has a great sense of humour. We laughed, Instagram was put on the back-burner and those four(ish) words became my catchphrase. In fact, I think I’ve actually been asked for my opinion more since then because my boss knows that I will be honest.
Speaking of inspirational quotes, here’s a great one that always seems to pop up when I’m using Canva:
“There are three responses to a piece of design—yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”
– Milton Glaser, Designer.
I would add that there is one more response to add to that: I kinda hate it.
Advertising Flops and Fails
After accepting those fateful words as my catchphrase, I’ve started applying them to more examples of bas marketing. I’ve said it about shoddy website design, spammy email campaigns, social media disasters, that awful McDonald’s TV advert with the grieving boy and the horrendous viral Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner.
I’ve owned “I kinda hate it” and it has been liberating!
And just think – if someone at Pepsi or McDonald’s or wherever had said “I kinda hate it” too, then money and time would not have been wasted on bad marketing that offends and upsets people.
Fighting Back Against Bad Marketing
At work, we’re told to only offer criticism if it’s constructive, so that we’re sensitive to people’s feelings. Offer solutions, not problems.
We’re also told to give feedback based on the “sandwich method” – you know, the good followed by the bad and rounded off with something else good, so we supposedly don’t notice the bad:
“Hey, great job with *insert client name here* by the way! They were really pleased with *something specific you did*. Perhaps next time we could improve by *doing all these things differently*. Anyway, fantastic job there and thank you for your hard work.”
That’s all very nice, but we also see straight through it, don’t we?
I don’t know about you, but I often feel worse when someone gives me that fake “sandwich” feedback. It feels like they must think I’m too stupid to recognise that it’s criticism. And if my colleagues can’t talk to me honestly, then I feel like I can’t be or even shouldn’t be honest with them either.
Why Bad Marketing is the Absolute Worst
Bad marketing is the absolute worst because we allow it to happen.
We’re all trapped in that space between pleasing our superiors and colleagues by agreeing with them, rolled up in a Catch 22 of challenging them with our own ideas in order to show our worth, plus a dollop of genuinely improve the work at hand.
So, let’s just say it. Let’s just be genuine. Authentic. Honest. Let’s say that we kinda hate bad marketing when we do.
That doesn’t mean we have to insult anyone personally or make someone feel bad about their work. You don’t have to break out of your office cubicle, dishing out the reads to your coworkers like a competitor on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
But next time you’re asked your opinion on a poor piece of design or a bad marketing campaign that you don’t think is right, don’t shy away from saying exactly how it makes you feel.
Because the chances are if you kinda hate it, then your clients and customers will kinda hate it too.