I’m torn. I can’t tell if this is a good review for Experience the Message, or a total dis.

My agent tells me it is a so-called “mixed review.” The only thing mixed that I like is a Jack and Coke.

My friend and fellow blogger Craig Silverman thinks this is the best I could hope for, since the publication (Vancouver-based The Georgia Straight) is a lefty boradsheet that hates all things corporate or marketing. What do you think?


Is your enemy’s enemy your friend? In the looking-glass world of modern marketing, why not? Max Lenderman, a Chicago-based marketer with a message and then some, definitely believes he’s on the consumer’s side in the on-going battle pitting mega-advertisers against shopper civilians.

Lenderman argues that advertising has lost its way, attempting to prop up mass-market delivery methods (the 30-second TV spot in particular) that are on the verge of extinction because of technology—like TiVo—and excess competition. “Thirty years ago, the average American was targeted by 560 daily ad messages. Today, the average consumer is exposed to between three thousand and four thousand marketing messages.…There’s too much commercial noise in our lives.”

To break through, Lenderman calls for a revolution: “We need to market personally, because the marketplace has become individualized and better connected at the same time.” We need, he argues, advertising based on consumer experience rather than old-fashioned top-down evangelism. Nor is he alone. Alongside such primary books as The Cluetrain Manifesto and The Experience Economy, for which Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing Is Changing the Brand World serves as a primer, he quotes McDonald’s global chief of marketing, Larry Light, one of the most influential advertisers in the world: “Mass marketing today is a mass mistake.”

Lenderman believes in taking the message to the people, one shopper at a time. He points to companies like Starbucks and Nike, which allow consumers to customize their experience—i.e., the Starbucks two-pump extra-hot half-dry, et cetera, ad nauseum, and Nike’s modular DIY shoe—and to others, such as American Apparel, that sell a lifestyle alongside their product. He urges marketers to go out where the shopper is, through practices like “leaning” (attractive volunteers loudly ordering specific brands in bars, for example) and flash mobs (groups mobilized to act in concert through text messaging).


Is all this good news? Lenderman believes we are increasingly equipped (through peer-to-peer dialogue like blogs and such sites as to resist unwelcome or inauthentic messaging. He suggests that by shifting away from one-to-many communication—toward branding events for positive memories, introducing product-centred video games to children (!), freeing brands the way open-source software allows any user to rewrite it—advertisers can engage their customers as equals.

Experience the Message is at times riveting, always opinionated. But whether a paradigm shift is truly under way or advertisers are merely tailoring their tone to ape larger social shifts remains unclear here. More case studies and less sermonizing would help. (Lenderman certainly takes advantage of his bully pulpit to repeat himself, evangelize, advertise his own business, and commit manifold grammatical and spelling errors.) It will inspire, though—be it creativity in ad execs or fear in consumers. And fear we should: Lenderman wants to save us from advertising carpet-bombing; he prefers a kill where they see the whites of our eyes.

Wow. The “whites of our eyes.” I had no idea I was such a bad-ass. And for the record, I never ever advocated “introducing product-centered video games to children.” That’s outright libel.


  1. Paul Charlebois · · Reply

    Hi Max,
    I got that issue of the Straight and was somewhat confused by the review myself. I think one thing that would have shifted their opinon is if they knew you were a Canuck. They tend to write a lot about the world being corrupted by American establishments. Aside from that, The Straight are a bunch of hypocrites (personal opinion) they are a supposed fringe magazine that has more advertisements than words. I got your back!

  2. As a Vancouverite who reads The Georgia Straight I think dismissing it as a “lefty magazine” is far too simplistic.
    While I think some personal shots were taken against you that were not necessary, the piece raises a good point.
    Even though I am a marketer, I do think we should always question what we do as marketers, as well as question marketing itself–even marketing that may be considered authentic and ethical.
    By the way, I like your blog. 🙂

  3. S. Baltsot · · Reply

    Um, it’s a dis. Big time.

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