Review of Margeting - Inventing a Different Marketing Language by André Platteel    

André Platteel, like many of us, feels that marketing is losing its charm and effectiveness. His solution is to try and invent a new and fresher marketing language, through “the constant creation of margins in which desire can take shape and marketing can find new avenues for a more appropriate relationship with consumers” (the word “margeting” is based on “marketing” and “margins”). The result is a coffee-table sized book, containing nearly three-hundred pages of theory and another two-hundred pages of mock ad campaigns created by a diverse range of people who have reflected on the basic concepts of margeting.

It's obvious from the outset that margeting aims to be different. The book starts with an index: no half-hearted list of major concepts, this is a catalogue of every word in the book; for example, the word “the” appears on pages 78-81, 85-117, 119, 121-124, 126-139, ... you get the picture. And if you're wondering why “the” doesn't make its first appearance until page 78, it's because you have to wade through 77 pages of index before you reach even the preface.

On with the main course: Platteel doesn't like the current state of marketing, this much is obvious. He correctly observes that many consumers are cynical about being marketed to; brand promises that are unambiguous and uncluttered are simply too banal to be believed.

“Ah”, I hear you say, “but what would you have in its place?” Platteel's answer is that the new language of marketing must be dynamic, original, and must leave room for fabulation, a consumer's own constantly changing assessment of the brand's story in light of their own experiences. In the first part of the book, he offers some explanation of these concepts so that, in the second part, he can look at some strategies used to try and revive marketing: the ironic brand, the de-branded brand, the building-block brand, the responsible brand and the humanized brand.

Unfortunately, in trying to explain margeting Platteel's references are almost all negative. He describes new approaches, from Diesel's ironic humour to Adidas's approach of supplying pens with new trainers, to various companies' attempts to demonstrate social responsibility. With each example, I found myself thinking “at last! Here's an example of margeting in action!” But each time my hopes were dashed at the last minute: there is a cynicism at the heart of Diesel's irony; Adidas only allow their customers to alter one small aspect of the end product; and brands being socially responsible? Pull the other one!

When it comes to illustrations of what margeting is , Platteel chooses parallels almost exclusively from European philosophy, literature and, in particular, cinema. In fact, margeting could cynically be called a “European cinema approach to marketing”. The best films are ones where plenty is left unsaid, where the audience gets to fill in its own narrative. Wouldn't it be great if advertising could be the same? It's a noble aim, but one that I don't hold out much hope for. Firstly, it places a far greater degree of trust in your target audience than a misanthrope like me could ever muster. And secondly, Platteel offers no evidence whatsoever to back up the effectiveness of his claims; in short: what about the bottom line?

The visual examples of margeting in action are a mixed bag. There are the seeds of some very good ad campaigns in there. There are also some examples which remind me of hastily thrown-together art-school assignments, doomed to fester in darkness for eternity once they've scraped a passable grade. And, with logos and other elements of branding conspicuous by their absence, I often found myself thinking “how will poor Josephine Public ever know what it is she's being persuaded to buy?”

Perhaps my inability to grasp the theory of margeting is down to my own shortcomings. Perhaps in this context I lack the ability to go into “European cinema mode” and add my own personal narrative to margeting. But the story foremost in my mind was one of The Emperor's New Ad Campaign. Platteel's heavily overworked language reminded me of a disaffected teenager's rage against the system: plenty to complain about, only convoluted sentences to put in its place. It could be that the book's translation from Dutch introduced some of this awkwardness, but I suspect that much of it was present in the original.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. And despite its many shortcomings, it contains gems of ideas which really do appeal to me. But as a new language of marketing, I think it's about as useful as building a new tower in Babel.

© Dan Sumption, February 2004

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