Why Good Marketing Can Absolutely Save A Crappy Product


Some people say that marketing is easy if the product is amazing, therefore, that should be your prime objective.

I think that’s true.

But any monkey can market a product that’s fire.

Because then it’s solely a matter of showing it to the people who’ll like it anyway.

The part where marketing becomes really useful and even necessary is in those situations where improving the product is impossible or impractical.

That’s where the real OG’s of marketing can shine vs. many modern marketers who think throwing up a FB ad and bribing some influencers is marketing.

What’s important to understand is that marketing is a multiplier.

So it’s not just a question of creating a product and then sprinkling some marketing on top at the end.

Pick the largest natural number (n eN) you want:

0 x n is still 0

-1 x n = -n

A product people don’t care about with bad marketing is still a product people don’t care about. (0 x n)

This is what happened in the dot com bubble. Tons of companies spending a lot of money with worthless products. That works until your money runs out or the pool of new leads to bother.

A horrible product with hardcore ‘modern marketing’ behind it will accelerate its downward trajectory. (-1 x n)

But there is one exception.

One, which many people proclaim not to exist.

The idea that the right kind of marketing can turn an undesirable product into a desirable one.

That kind of marketing CAN absolutely create market demand.

This category belongs to the creation of psychological economic value creation vs. technological, meaning you make the product better by messing with the perception of humans and not the actual product.*

We examined psychological economic value creation in part 2 of the essay series: Why Your Business Needs More Weird Ideas.

Our previous mathematical analogies hide that great marketing CAN absolutely achieve this.

You might illustrate this with:

-100 x -n = 100n, thereby showing that a negative product can be saved with a certain kind of marketing.

Except -n would have to indicate the act of good marketing, of course.

Just look at something inherently worthless. A gemstone.

Not even a special or rare one… a diamond.

After the Great Depression, diamond sales plummeted and De Beers hired N.W. Ayers to figure out how they could boost sales.

Or to put it more accurately:

‘‘To inquire whether various forms of propaganda could boost diamond sales.’’

N.W. Ayers faced the following challenges:

If we’re going to sell something that’s pretty much worthless, we can’t have people re-selling it. So once they buy it, they will need to keep it so they don’t realize it doesn’t really have any value.

We need to sell a lot of them, so we need to find a way such that everyone will buy one and not just a very specific demographic.

We need to sell them at an incredibly high price, how can we achieve that?

They came up with this brilliant idea to:

“create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”

That immediately takes care of half the population if all the men are buying their soon to be wife a ring.

Since it’s a symbol of love, they won’t sell it.

And we can make it incredibly expensive, not because it’s worth that much but because we can tie it to how much you love your wife if we make them believe that you can quantify that with money spent.

Which is why they released marketing that said a ring should equal 1 month’s salary. (Later, under pressure to increase revenue it became a quarter of a year’s salary.)

If you’re interested in the complete story you can read: Conjuring Up Value: Why You Want An Engagement Ring

Is this easy?


This isn’t something you can learn from a book like engineering because the underlying laws don’t stay the same. You can build the same bridge every time. You can run an effective campaign once.

Such situations are goverened by what I call anti-network effects. You can read about it here.

But can it be done?


And as we start to run up against the limits of human perception (How much can you improve the pixel density, dynamic range, thinness and bezel of a tv before you just don’t notice the difference anymore?), psychological economic value creation will continue to become more important.

You start to see this in phones, which is why analyses show phone sales are going down.

How much better can you make it?

I’d argue that the iPhone is much more of a fashion symbol which derives it’s value from the story the user can tell themself (psychological value) than it is the single greatest phone you can buy right now (technological value).

Will there be significant jumps?

100%… We’ll continue to have disruptive innovation.

But in areas where we’ve been dealing with very minor incremental innovation, there’s much more room for psychological economic value creation.

In Sell Me The Left One, we examine ways in which the restaurant industry has created huge demand where there was none by creating psychological value.

*It’s important to realize that this wouldn’t be possible if humans were basically flesh-based computers.

This is exactly why so many big organizations and a large part of silicon valley doesn’t realize this is possible. They tend to severely overestimate the logical part of humans and undervalue just how much of human behavior is ‘irrational’.

I prefer to call it counter-logical because everything becomes rational when you look at it through the right lens. This is problematic because you can then post facto pretend things are logical which you previously dismissed. Thus never having to face cognitive dissonance and learn from your mistakes. Aka hindsight bias.

RJ Youngling