The typical marketing expert has heard this phrase, or something like it, more than once in their career. The quest to impress clients, shake up the market and demonstrate a return on investment is quickly thrown off course when the results don’t meet expectations. Is this a matter of poor marketing execution, a lack of communication or a client who doesn’t understand or value the role of marketing as a part of the organization as a whole?

While any of the three could be blamed for a lackluster performance, the biggest challenge for the marketing professional is the client who doesn’t understand marketing. The client is often the same individual who took Marketing 101 in college as a general requirement in their journey to the business world, believing that a grasp of the three P’s and the understanding of a brand is all you need to succeed in this field. It is this exact belief that keeps their companies falling short of the potential they could actually reach.

The Smoke

The concept that where there is smoke, you’ll find fire is certainly true in marketing. The smoke is meant to capture the attention of the audience, drawing them into the fire. The goal is never to put the fire out, but to instead cause the inferno. To that end, the accusation that marketing is smoke is a good thing – it means campaigns can be built to capture attention, cause people to act and generate the returns a company wants.

One of the best examples of using the smoke came from Weird Al Yankovic in the promotion of his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. In July of 2014, he released eight music videos on YouTube in the course of eight days. The best was “Word Crimes,” a spoof on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” This attempt at shaming those who cling to poor grammar, along with the seven other videos, provided the perfect smoke as the comedian-singer finally earned his first No. 1 on The Billboard 200 album chart after more than 30 years in the business. Mandatory Fun became the first comedy album to hit this coveted spot since 1963.


The use of mirrors has always meant to give us a reflection of ourselves. This reflection is not 100 percent representative of what others see, but it is the closest thing we have to emulate what others perceive. In marketing, the mirrors concept allows us to see what others see, measure the customer experience and make changes where necessary. It’s an opportunity to build from the ground-up, fix a flaw, check for consistency and make decisions. It demands agility, flexibility and measurement so as to understand the condition of the campaign at any time to try and achieve the best results.

One of the best reasons to use mirrors is that even the best at marketing are still human, and the marketing department at Bud Light knows this all too well. A campaign for the brew in 2015 positioned it as the perfect option “for removing ‘No’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The brand went so far as to include the slogan on its bottle labels. While Bud Light marketing innovators may have been trying to infuse a little spontaneous fun into the evening, the campaign played more like the perfect opening to creepy seduction and predatory rape. Fans and foes alike took to social media, providing the perfect reflection of poor taste and the company discontinued the label.

A Little Luck

The luck needed for a successful campaign certainly comes in handy. Hitting the market with the right message at the right time for the right audience is the work of marketing experts. Making sure it stands out among considerable noise in the market takes the added touch of a genius and the perfect timing that often comes with the right amount of luck….or is it? Maybe it’s a well-researched strategy or a proven campaign. Maybe it’s consistency in activity and messaging with a focus on staying the course.

Stop Making Changes – Unless Absolutely Warranted

Think about the examples above – both Weird Al Yankovic and Bud Light are well-established brands. You know what you’re going to get when you purchase something from either one as both have invested considerable resources over the years to communicate a single brand. Campaigns may help to provide the smoke and mirrors, but the call to action comes back to the same brand with the same messaging. That’s why both have been so successful over the years.

Any marketing professional who claims they have never had a campaign fail is lying. There are certainly times where a campaign is executed because all signs point to it being the right creative at the right time, only to completely miss the mark for a variety of reasons. By contrast, the bigger failures come when clients can’t stay focused on the strategy, want to see instant results and make changes every time they talk to another “expert”. When this happens, the campaign doesn’t ever get hot enough to generate the smoke and the mirrors tell us nothing. Luck could help save the campaign, but few marketing professionals want to hang their careers on superstitions.

If you truly want to drive success in your marketing campaigns, you have to be patient, stay the course and be consistent in your brand message. Build out the strategy and stick with it as you build out your campaigns. Don’t expect immediate results – it’s not a sprint. The race to success should be a marathon: steady, measured, intentional. Anything else will produce starts and stops that hinder your brand from gaining the traction it needs.