7 Deadly Sins of Marketing Experts

February 12, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


Pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. The seven deadly sins. Let’s face it, we’re mere mortals and stuff happens. For the religious among us, absolution awaits in the pews of our favorite places of worship. For the rest, who really knows? I don’t pretend to have the answers. But, what happens when marketing experts commit these sins? Where do they go to seek redemption? The church of the consumer is not bound by the concept of forgiveness, so marketers would be well advised to avoid the seven deadly sins altogether.

Pride. Also known as vanity, this sin is the root of all the others. It’s an excessive belief in one’s own abilities that interferes with the recognition of a higher power. In the world of consumerism, consumers are the higher power. How many companies are washed up on the shores of desolation because marketing pros privileged their own firmly held beliefs over those of their customers? Abercrombie & Fitch, Blackberry, and more restaurant chains than I can list serve as suitable examples.

Envy. It’s a desire for the traits, status, or abilities of others. Building brands from a place of envy doesn’t escalate success; it undermines it. One sure way to destroy a brand is to attempt to copy the successful strategy of another. Bing learned the hard way that not every search engine can be a verb. Microsoft desperately wanted to out-Google Google. In the end, the “Bing it On” campaign was an epic fail.

Gluttony. This is the sin of consumption and it’s characterized by an intemperate desire to take more than what is required. It’s fitting that the folks in charge at Krispy Kreme brilliantly illustrated one of the best examples of brand gluttony. They turned a cool cult brand poised for strong long-term growth into a franchise feeding frenzy that ultimately killed the sugar buzz for everyone.

Lust. It’s an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. The sad fact is, all too often advertising objectifies women and contributes to the cultural challenges impeding feminine progress. Does Carl’s Jr.really need soft porn to sell its hamburgers? If so, maybe they should do a little more product work, instead. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating authentic feminine beauty, but when I see advertisers exploiting the female image, I know there’s a creative team behind the work that’s, well, not very creative. Show me the “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” instead.

Anger. Otherwise known as wrath, this sin obviously has no place in the business of influence. What is often not quite so obvious is, this notion extends to the environment surrounding otherwise helpful advertising messages. Smart marketers are very careful about the company they keep, and that requires thoughtful evaluation of the messages being communicated by the media carrying them. After all, we are often found guilty by association in the court of public opinion.

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Greed. Also called avarice or covetousness, it’s a desire for material wealth or gain that ignores the realm of the spiritual. What does spirituality have to do with marketing? In too many cases, not much. And that’s the problem. Advertising and marketing are an essential part of a healthy American economy, but it’s easy to cross the line. Airborne doesn’t cure colds, L’Oreal and Lancome won’t work like photoshop, and Sketcher sneakers don’t make you skinny. Those are just a few examples of lies proffered by greedy greedsters. These are the bad actors that give legitimate marketing experts a bad rap.

Sloth. It’s the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. Sloth is laziness, and it has no place in the world of marketing and advertising. Selling the right way is plain hard work. There really are no shortcuts, quick answers, or easy bucks to be made. True marketing experts know the process requires a lot of listening, thinking, experimenting, and discipline. It’s not easy work.

Avoiding the seven deadly sins of marketing doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but it tips the odds in your favor. We may not be saving souls in our profession, but we’re sure influencing their behavior. Doing that ethically is a big responsibility.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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