E-letter: Sex sells. Right.

We touch often on the issue of marketing for “occupied-space” product suppliers in Canada, but just when it seems it’s time to move over to something warm and fuzzy, along comes something like the most recent cover feature in Canada’s Marketing magazine: “Porn and Advertising: Will They Ever Hook Up?”

Right about here is where I get accused of being a moralist. Although accusers may have a point, let’s take a look and make a decision: moralist or reporter.

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

Words fascinate me, as they should, given my career. Without trying to talk down to people, I have noticed that the general population uses such words as obscenity, vulgarity and profanity interchangeably. This is fair enough, since word usage defines word meaning in the real world, not word definitions controlling word usage, as ivory-tower drunken lexicographers would have it.

I live about halfway between real-word usage and the ivory tower on most days, so it helps me to note that historically profanity refers to irreverence toward a religion. If you are interested, it shares its history with the word fanatic, which gives us the abbreviation we attach to hockey and baseball adherents: fans.

The word obscenity historically refers to something repugnantly indecent, foremost among such words being common words referring to sex, bodily functions and lascivious injuries or abuses. In other words, that which passes today for comedy.

Vulgarity originally referred to common, but then went downhill from there to being low-life and slovenly. The common-use Latin version of the Bible was called the Vulgate.

Why the English lesson? It’s because most discussions about pornography centre around religion or morality, as well they should. However, in this case, I’m just talking about obscenity and vulgarity, and the profanity discussion can sit this one out.

We in Canada have watched from the sidelines as every standard of civilized, decent behaviour has degenerated before our eyes, and always for the same stated reasons. To quote Sarah Barmak in Marketing, “Countless sites feature a diversity of body types, ages, races, disabilities, gender identities and sexual orientations, turning on its ear the long-held view that porn is always about exploitation, stereotypes and unhealthy expressions of sexuality.”

Ah, diversity! How did you become Canada’s only virtue? Or did you? It will take me a while to catch up with Ms. Barmak’s inclusion of disability porn as a healthy expression of sexuality. In fact, let’s drop this one right here, and not even try.

Since we are giving porn a totally undeserved “pass” on being profanity, that leaves obscenity (which porn is, by definition) and vulgarity. And porn is nothing, if not vulgar.

In wood-products production, being common or commonplace (vulgar) is not a bad thing. Large percentages of our overall production are mass-produced. On the other hand, much of our production is also custom, so we may not fit into the “diverse” protocol described in Marketing. Let’s take a look.

For years, we have been discussing how Canada sits between Europe and the Third World in production. We are more automated than the emerging economies, so we can be more efficient, but we have cheaper access to skilled labour than does Europe, so we can rely more on the human touch in processes where necessary.

The current mix of technology and labour provides Canada with a clear road toward quality as a factor, rather than volume or cost, although we can hold our own in those two areas, as well. In fact, as a production machine, Canada does very well.

In marketing … not so much. In fact, if Canadian secondary wood-industry producers need help in any area, it is in the area of marketing, including local, regional, national and international marketing. So. Where do we look for guidance?

If you say Marketing magazine, you’re done. Go to the showers. If nothing else, the endorsement of pornography as a marketing edge is vulgar and obscene. In fact, as the old terms describe, vulgarity and obscenity are designators of class. Quality people don’t behave that way. In fact, this value has been so integrated into the words that one is almost compelled to ask where the editors of Marketing learned their trade. What school did they attend? How did they perform? How far did they advance? From the inferences provided by the term “vulgar,” one would assume by their promotion of pornography as a marketing trend indicates their “quality” in those objective areas leaves something to be desired.

Of course, you cannot look at the advertising world for long without seeing that we have already traveled long down the described road before Marketing’s finally labeling it correctly. The idea that “sex sells” is hardly a new one.

But how do you push wood products with sex, anyway? I mean, if a couple is looking to furnish their home, and the woman is presumed to have an opinion, how is she best approached with porn as a marketing tool? Naturally, I am being sarcastic. I don’t think porn is a marketing tool for anything and has nothing to recommend it in the world of quality manufacturing.

Maybe the message, here, is that the marketing cubicles have been filled with very common thinkers with very pedestrian educations and they are having a difficult time coming up with a plan that works in modern manufacturing. If so, it would be great if they would divorce themselves from any idea of arranging a marriage between porn and advertising, except, of course, that the word “marriage” has triggered its own set of compromises.

So where are we going to find relief? For the time being, I still think we should: a) identify our target market; b) approach that target with a focused message through c) a reliable medium. The focused message should create a value statement in the recipient’s mind based on your product’s or service’s quality, cost and availability. If we can do that, we can leave the purple heels, fireman’s pole and handcuffs for late-night video renters of 50 Shades of Grey.


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