Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Genuine Conversation: The Big Kahuna of Social Media Marketing

[Make that "Genuine HUMAN Conversation." See comments to this post.]

The best scene in the 1999 movie The Big Kahuna (see wikipedia review) comes at the end when Phil (played by Danny Devito) -- a world-weary "marketing representative" (ie, sales person) for an industrial lubricants company -- puts down Bob (played by Peter Facinelli) -- an idealist R&D guy.

Bob has just come back from a late night conversation with a rich businessman (The Big Kahuna) that Phil and his partner Larry (played by Kevin Spacey) have been trying to close a deal with. Bob, however, only talked about Jesus with The Big Kahuna and neglected to talk about industrial lubricants at all.

At first, you thought that Bob was making a genuine human connection with the businessman and that this would eventually win the account, but Phil views its as the epiphany of "ingenuine" human conversation.

Thanks to YouTube, here's the scene.

"It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down'," says Phil. "That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep."

This is precisely why, in my opinion, no marketer -- and certainly no pharmaceutical marketer -- can carry on a real conversation with people via social media no matter how many times consultants and new media mavens urge them to do it.

Show me a marketing person that does NOT want to steer the conversation and I'll show you a marketing person that should be fired!

Marketing is not about conversation, so stop trying to fit that square peg into a round hole. I'm not saying that marketers cannot participate in discussions and try to steer them -- I do that all the time. Just don't call it genuine.


  1. Hi John,
    This is interesting and this probably will stimulate reactions and a “conversation” (hopefully genuine).

    From Webster on line here is the definition of genuine:
    1 a: actually having the reputed or apparent qualities or character b: actually produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author c: sincerely and honestly felt or experienced d: actual, true
    2: free from hypocrisy or pretense

    Given this, I have to disagree with you. I believe that a genuine discussion between patients and pharma marketers could take place. Can’t pharma marketers have a genuine discussion about the treatments they promoting? We repeatedly hear that engagement in social media marketing needs to be undertaken with transparency as a key component. I believe that whether it is via SM or "traditional” marketing, consumers and physicians know why pharma marketers are here and what they are paid for: to market products. As long as this is understood by all, isn’t the conversation then “free of hypocrisy or pretense and wouldn’t this make it genuine?


  2. I think my point was you can have a genuine MARKETING conversation, but NOT a genuine HUMAN conversation. With marketers that is. I also believe there can be a genuine human conversation between employees and customers as long as those employees are not management, pr people, sales, or marketing people or are not scripted by these people.

    There should be patient advocates employed by pharma who can carry on genuine human conversations with consumers.

  3. Whether a conversation is deemed GENUINE or HUMAN, or whether it is judged as a pitch or a two-way conversation, the true measure of effectiveness for social media is whether there is a reaction on the part of one party or the other. I call it "reactibility" -- something all too often absent from corporate culture.

    In the clip from The Big Kahuna, Danny Devito suggests being genuine is just listening to the other person's hopes and dreams. (Great clip by the way.) In my opinion, that is just words in the air. A more meaningful instance of being genuine is when a marketer actually REACTS to a comment made within a social context in order to (a) make the product better or (b) generate a random act of goodwill.

    Disease-state sites provide a critical service -- most often in the form of emotional support from other patients. But they also provide opportunities for companies to be part of an important ground-based team that can customize services, put out small fires before they become big fires and generate random acts of goodwill.

  4. Well, Marketers have marketing conversations.... A Pharma company as an entity can have, as you suggest, a meaningful genuine and human conversation but I don't necessarily agree that it should happen with marketers. Marketers can certainly listen, learn and provide some answers, but the human conversation belong with another entity within the corporation. Some pharma companies already have these genuine conversations but not necessarily in public and through social media.


  5. Thanks for posting this blog. It certainly helps all levels of marketers.



  6. Very thought provoking post John.

    I think genuine human conversations online are possible, but ONLY if marketers aren't afraid to express their own opinions. Not the opinions of their company, or the party line on a particular issue.

    For example, I really don't believe that every person who works for pharma is against comparative effectiveness as part of healthcare reform. But how many of those people would be willing to express an opinion in favor of comparative effectiveness as part of healthcare reform if their company is lobbying against it?

    As communications professionals, social media provides another channel for us to communicate. And we use that channel to engage in dialogue.

    It's the same as when you talk to a person one on one. Some people are going to be genuine, while others will be trying to sell you something. It's up to you to figure out who is genuine and who is full of it.


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