Marketers are Tossers and Other Marketing-related Opinions from Lord Alan Sugar

On yet another dreary morning, marketers wearily traipsed into the Tobacco Dock in East London, shaking off the remains of morning rush hour blues and gearing up to hear Lord Alan Sugar’s keynote address at Festival of Marketing.

Ranked 101st in the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of over £1 billion, Alan Sugar established Amstrad 47 years ago after having dropped out of a Hackney school at the age of 16 and making a living selling electronics out of a van he had purchased for £50. Amstrad sold to Sky in 2007.

The star of BBC’s The Apprentice was knighted in 2000 for his services to business and he holds two honorary Doctorates of Science degrees, awarded by City University and Brunel University respectively.

Here are some snippets from the fireside chat between Ruth Mortimer, Content Director at Centaur Marketing and Alan.

Ruth opened her line of questioning by quoting Alan: “You’re quoted as saying you’ve written lots of books on advertising – cheque books. Has your view changed?”

Ruth and Alan

“Advertising and marketing has changed and some of the stuff I see now – where companies spend their money – fascinates me. Good luck to them.

“I’m old fashioned – let’s talk about the product.

“Nowadays we see these panels on the side (of a website) and I am told that people refer to the amount of hits that they receive – I think there is a market for a ‘hit lie detector’. I want to know if these are bringing me any business.”

“How many times would you go onto a website that’s associated with what you’re requesting? It’s clever, no doubt about it, but does the advertiser that’s paid to be there actually get anything out of it?”

Clearly keen to put a positive spin on digital marketing, Ruth asked: “You’re actually a bit of a digital pioneer with Amstrad. Who are the digital pioneers of today?”

But Alan wasn’t playing along: “There are so many in marketing. Google, … Amazon started with books and would sell you a Rolls Royce if they could.

“One of the problems with Amazon is that they are putting everyone else out of business. If someone had told me that 40 years ago, I would never have believed it.

“Google are constantly changing the rules and finding ways to stop retailers from going up the ladder without paying them. They are constantly writing algorithms to control the world.

“Apple haven’t been sucked into stupid advertising – they sell a great product and market it in a way that makes everyone want it …

“Unlike some other brands I could mention …

“When I look at this John Lewis advert, I think – why?”

Ruth interjects, “You didn’t have a cry?”

“I think the only people who are crying are the people who paid for it. All it says is that we (John Lewis) are nice people. Well that’s nice – but what products are they selling? Nothing about it!

“We want your money, that’s the bottom line. Marks & Spencer, Apple, (etc) want your money.

“John Lewis, well they are nice people, but they still want your money!”

Flustered, Ruth turns to the audience for questions. “What skills and experience are you looking for?”

“Well, I am the top marketer in my company and I’ve got all the skills I could ask for.

“We want to do our own advertising. I control the marketing in my company. I don’t want to pay some agency to do the creative thinking for me.”

“What role does marketing play in strategic decision-making in your business?”

“No – none. Look back at Apple and their products. The genius was in the product. Marketing wasn’t involved in that. It’s a chicken and egg situation. The marketer has to turn it into something sellable, but it’s the product itself that matters at the end of the day.”

Someone in the audience asks Alan for his opinion on social media.

It’s sadly lacking in depth. “It’s a good form of communication – I use it to shut up the tabloids effectively. When someone prints something about me that I don’t like, I simply ask my four million followers what they think, and I give them that journalist’s email address.”

The audience cackles.

“What do you think is going to be the next big thing in digital?”

“I have no clue – it’s fascinating and exciting – but is there room for another social media platform alongside Twitter and Facebook? I don’t know.

“Phone technology, that’s interesting – mobile payments – yeah – that’s the way things are going.”

And a question that Ruth tried to come back to time and time again, “What is your all time favourite advertising campaign?”

Having not been able to recall a favourite advertising campaign on the spot and not being able to put Ruth off the question anymore, Alan told his audience, “Things that make you laugh are great, but adverts that make you buy are important.

“The meerkats advert gets on my bloody wick, if I’m honest. They drive me around the bend.”


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Lara Doyle

Lara Doyle

Senior Content Manager, TFM Insights

Lara Doyle is Senior Content Manager at UBM EMEA, Tech a global events business, and covers Technology for Marketing, eCommerce Expo and London Technology Week.

November 12, 2015

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