I’ve been thinking about Jacques Derrida and his theory of deconstruction a lot lately. No, it’s not the post-grad-school nightmares talking.
Don’t get me wrong. Derrida and I have beef. I’ve read Of Grammatology enough times my eyes still beg for death at the mention of it, and somehow I remain uncertain of my understanding of it. So why, exactly, did I find myself going through textbooks while writing this article? Why was there the nagging thought at the back of my brain that Derrida would certainly have something to say about marketing?
A crash course in deconstruction would be this: If anything can be constructed, it can be deconstructed. Seems pretty standard. But it inevitably gets tricky, because the process of taking the thing apart is where we uncover contradictions, conflicting definitions, and overlaps. For example, if I speak of the concept of justice, you would assume I’m speaking of a natural concept, whose meaning is pure and true. (Stick with me now.) In reality, I am speaking only of the thing as it has been culturally constructed in my narrow worldview, and therefore I am only reporting to you my limited understanding of it.
Spoiler alert: You’ll never know the “objective” meaning of anything—you’ll just get to better understand the sum of its parts.
I’ve dragged you through this academic hellhole—and for what? To tell you that marketing is a construction, a language in its own right? Not exactly.
There’s a reason marketing is such a tough job. Every company ascribes meaning to the word in a way that is hyper-specific to itself. Every company hopes that an attuned marketer will make the nebulous more tangible, give it a definition that changes it from a cost to an investment.
How do you ask this of a marketer?
You don’t, actually.
That’s nowhere in the job description. But that’s what’s implied—why a good marketer embodies the characteristics of everything from technology platforms to sales team members. It is to become as close a thing to God as business gets.
I can feel you shaking your heads at me. “Anne, knock off the hyperbole.” Or, more aptly, “Cut the crap.” But I think we have to explore this juxtaposition of a role that simultaneously defies definition and demands definable results.
The world in which we live depends upon being plugged in. There is no space in society without a phone or a computer; every bit of us is rigged to the things that augment reality while simultaneously shaping it.
So, is it possible to create a language people inherently know how to speak? The closest thing I’ve seen is Duolingo’s mascot, an irreverent, often murderous, bird that became a social media sensation. How did the marketer know we’d speak that language?
Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it was a lucky gimmick that struck gold. Or maybe it was someone taking a concept apart at the fault lines and, in that ambiguity, finding a sense of meaning.
Where does the aspiring marketer go from here? The enormity of your endeavor is not lost on me, but perhaps you can take comfort from this: There is no answer, because there are multiple.