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The Psychological Toll of Unpopular Products

When you first start working in marketing, most of us have big dreams and ideas about how it will work, the products you will be advertising, all the fun and creativity you will get to be a part of. But oftentimes, in this industry, you find that the job is considerably less sexy than you expected.

Instead of marketing delicious foods or amazing sports equipment or high-end retail, you get decidedly less fun, less exciting products. Cardboard boxes? Hearing aids? Apps for a ridiculously specific niche of the population? I’ve done them all. Shoe booties? Sprinkler systems for farmers? Yes, I’ve done those, too. The hardest part of marketing these types of products — all of which provide legitimate value — is finding the “story” that goes beyond the words in a blog, the copy on an ad, and actually makes someone excited enough about these seemingly mundane products to purchase.

Beyond the subset of the “unsexy” industries, on which I have done a presentation, there is an even more challenging subset of products with a different set of problems. Around the office, we call this “the psychological toll of unpopular products.” When you have to market or promote a product that your target market HATES, distrusts, or of which they feel resentful, the job becomes that much harder. We had this issue recently where we were marketing a product to a consumer segment that was deeply resentful of this product, a product they saw as a meddlesome form of government intrusion on their work and way of life.

Was the product actually bad? No. Was the company behind it bad? No. But was the backlash awful? You bet.

When you market something, or when you write advertising copy, or when you design something around a product, you have to believe in it. Otherwise, the messaging falls flat. When you believe in the messaging and the public dislikes it, it can absolutely crush you as a marketer. When you put blood, sweat, tears, and a ton of effort into a website or a social campaign, and the users come back at you with “eff you,” it can be absolutely devastating.

In this case, we managed social media, website design, SEO, and PPC for a client that was wildly unpopular with their target market. They weren’t unpopular because they were bad, though. They were unpopular because the idea behind the product was unpopular. That meant we were constantly inundated with negativity from Facebook comments, blog comments, and general negativity every time we did our jobs.

There are only so many times you can be told to eff off before you start to resent the product or you stop believing in them. It is in those times that our roles as marketers become even more important. We have to look past the negativity of social media comments. We have to look past the anger and the vitriol and focus on the benefits that may be unseen to the average user. We have to keep doing our job and keep focusing on the story, the benefits, the “why” of a client. It is not always fun. It is not always glamorous, but the reality is that marketers and advertisers help drive businesses forward. We create jobs, build brands, and help businesses thrive — even in the face of unwelcome criticism.

In the end, as marketers we have to accept and embrace the psychological toll of unpopular products because our job is not to make judgments on those products, it’s to market and advertise them. It’s not always easy, but if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. So stand tall, stand proud, and look past the middle finger emojis to your next brilliant campaign. If this sounds like something your company could use some help with, please let us know.