By Mark Ritson. PhD Marketing.
You might refer to him as “Scott”. Possibly the Prime Minister. Maybe just “the PM”. People on both sides of the political fence often use the abbreviation “ScoMo”. But for a growing number of Australians there is a different way to refer to our current Prime Minister.
He is now “Scotty from Marketing”. Across social media and in day-to-day conversations, more and more people are using the phrase. It’s already proven immensely popular on Twitter, with #ScottyfromMarketing trending several times over the festive period.
And there seems little doubt that as 2020 progresses use of the nickname will become even more prevalent.
Its genesis can be traced back to Morrison’s ascension to the PM’s office and a short article in the satirical online newspaper The Betoota Advocate in August 2018.
With the Liberal Party apparently tanking in the polls and Malcolm Turnbull rapidly losing his grip on leadership, The Advocate ran a story in which the government was compared to a failing local cricket team that had decided to send in Scott Morrison as a “nightwatchman”.
The inference was that Morrison was a last-gap attempt to survive until the federal election and that the man himself was ill-suited to the big job.
It was harmless, puerile stuff. But midway through the short piece the future PM is portrayed as sitting up in the pavilion with his feet up and referred to as “Big Scotty from Marketing”.
That little piece of satire evaporated from public view almost immediately but one reader, the mysterious Gaz Bruce, clearly did not forget about it. Some six months later Bruce began to use the phrase, shorn of the initial descriptor of “Big”, in many of his disparaging tweets about the PM.
The phrase gradually spread to a small, critical army on social media. But it’s not until the recent bushfires and Morrison’s ill-fated attempt to manage perceptions of his office with a poorly conceived advertising campaign that the disparaging name starts to take off.
As criticisms of Morrison grow so too does the usage of his new nickname. The popularity of “Scottie from Marketing” has its roots in several commonly held perceptions about the marketing industry and the people that work within it. Ask your average Australian for their thoughts about marketers and inevitably their reaction will focus on three main attributes.
Marketers are superficial. They focus on the way things look rather than the thing itself. They are also slippery and prone to say one thing while actually thinking another. And, finally, they are expert manipulators of public opinion who, despite their slippery and superficial nature, can usually fool others into doing their will.
It’s not a pleasant description and certainly not accurate. But, unfortunately, it represents the general reaction of most people to the marketing profession.
I’ve seen it first-hand when someone spots that I have a PhD and inquires about the subject of my doctorate with genuine enthusiasm. When I explain it’s in marketing the reaction changes to despondency or mild disgust. I get the look usually reserved for shoplifters or people who cause a public nuisance in shopfronts.
Morrison is well aware of his new sobriquet and believes the “snarky” name is being pushed by Labor. He may be dismissive of the impact but you can bet, ironically, that Morrison’s own marketing team has written the words more than once on a Canberra whiteboard and discussed their impact.
The new nickname is proving a handy way for opponents to instantly position the PM as someone unable to get to grips with the real matters in hand, especially the bushfires, and who is focused on appearances at the expense of managing the actualities.
In associating him with marketing, his critics have achieved something most thought was almost impossible and found a group of people even less trusted than federal politicians.
In the most recent Roy Morgan survey examining Australia’s perceptions of different professions almost everyone is perceived to be more ethical and honest than our politicians. Only advertising people, along with car salesmen and real estate agents, finish beneath them in the trustworthy stakes.
Marketers often despair at this societal perception and debate whether their negative reputation is accurate.
Now they have a new issue to consider. Is their new found association with Scott Morrison as damaging to the profession as it is to the PM? And is it actually fair?
For starters Morrison is not, and has never been, a marketer. He is an economist by training and, while he worked extensively in the marketing-heavy tourism industry during the early phase of his career, he was engaged in general management roles and never in a marketing position.
Ironically, if he had more marketing chops Morrison would certainly not have run his notorious Facebook ad during the bushfire crisis. And he would surely have had a clearer grasp of the damaging optics of taking an international vacation just as the crisis began.
Despite the public’s perception that marketers are a superficial bunch who only engage in advertising and spin, a proper marketer would also have had a much better finger on the pulse of the nation in recent months. Every well-trained marketer starts with data and is driven, one might even say obsessed, with monitoring the target market. That’s hard to reconcile with a Prime Minister who so badly misjudged the mood of the nation. If Scotty really was “from marketing” he would have done a much better job of anticipating the changing political environment and responded appropriately — a point the marketing press has made during the past month.
Of course, none of this will stop “ScottyfromMarketing” continuing to trend across social media and into the public consciousness.
For the Prime Minister it’s an annoying and increasingly damaging stain on his public perception. For marketers it’s a very unfortunate reinforcement of some of the oldest and least attractive stereotypes of our profession. If only there were people out there who knew about positioning and brand image to help fix this mess.
By Mark Ritson originally published in the Australian Newspaper