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Five Thoughts About
Gonzo Marketing

With Christopher Locke, author of "Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices"

By Danielle Dunne

December 20, 2001 — This week, sits down with Christopher Locke, author of Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices, to talk about marketing, people power, and what we can learn from everybodyís favorite gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The title of your book is a little surprising, could you explain it?

Locke: It goes back to Hunter Thompsonís notion of gonzo journalism. Thompson describes it as the author being engaged in the events heís reporting on as they are happening, as opposed to mass mediaís notion of objectivity and distance, reporting on events as if you had no personal relationship to the outcome. In works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and other gonzo stuff that Thompson is known for, he was really talking about a different relationship to reporting on events. I see this happening on the Web, I see many websites and especially Web logs and bloggers as a very engaged, bottom up kind of journalism. In a nutshell thatís the notion of engagement, and that is the operative notion in gonzo marketing, similar to mass media. Corporations have a similar distance from their audience, a canned spiel or pitch that is not engaged with the actual life of the community that is receiving those marketing messages.

And what is the meaning behind, ĒWinning Through Worst PracticesĒ?

It was initially a joke. But more substantively, it is the notion that you can develop best practices in an organization through consensus building and so forth, and generally thatís a good idea, but when things are moving very very fast, the time it takes to build that consensus is so long that by the time youíve agreed that these are the best things to do, they were the best things to do five years ago. Worst practices are the notion of trust your gut, go with whatís seems right and damn the torpedoes.

I think that the idea of best practices is informed by an overcautiousness. Letís make sure that whatever we do it is going to have predictable results, and the fact is, in the new order of things created by the Internet, by the Web and by fast interactive media, you just canít know. What we need is a willingness to go out there, engage and see what happens. What might seem best according to the old conventional, traditional, careful way of doing things might be the very worst thing, and what seems the worst might have the greatest benefit.

So, itís not necessarily worst, just different?

Well, it could be worst. For me, it comes from the kind of things Iíve done in my life and in my career that have been the absolute donít exampleóif you do this, it will surely destroy youóand it has always worked to my benefit, rather than becoming the nail in the coffin.

Are there business examples of the best thing to do really being the worst thing?

The press release, the annual report, the kinds of messages that companies put out to their markets, the whole point of which is to not offend anyone. They tend to be vanilla, humorless and filled with jargon. The notion of getting as many people as possible into the audience, into the bell curve, as a result these messages have no personality, no guts, no sense of perspective or point of view, and that is typical of mass marketing. It worked on television, it works very well there, which is why companies are addicted to using those same techniques in a medium where they are counterproductive at best.

In other words, if human beings are speaking on behalf of the company, they are going to sound like they are human beings speaking, not like they are committees, not like they are the legal department, run through the public relations department, run through the marketing department. At the end of the process you get communications from corporations that are saying nothing to no one.

Whatís the solution?

Go back to people. The fact is that people make up organizations, the organization is not a person, it is not a human being, and therefore the communications that come out of these non-human legal entities doesnít sound human and canít sound human.

The whole book is about turning to the people who make up organizations and giving them the power to communicate on behalf of the company or just as themselves. Thatís a long explanation to get into the gonzo model, but basically it says look to your own people. Your people have passions and interests. Find out what those are, build really good useful websites around those interests and then go out in the Web space and find mating interest in the independent websites that have been created and fund those. Create relationships with them, underwrite them, itís basically the renaissance model of the Medicis -- being patrons of the arts, you can create thereby real intersections of communities with shared interests that talk to each other person to person.

Reader Comments:
He's spot on!
Helmar Rudolph
February 22, 2004

Marketing "xgen 101"
Howard Prince
December 28, 2001

going gonzo
Rob Gillies
December 28, 2001

No One Can Agree on Consensus
Randall L. Scheel
December 27, 2001

Yep, vanilla, "jargoned" messages don't communicate
Lesley Sprigg
December 27, 2001

Gonzo Marketing
Dianah McDonald
December 27, 2001

The Gonzo Debate
Dave Rogers
December 27, 2001

Gonzo Marketing
Kathleen Boyles
December 27, 2001

Gonzo IS Best Practice
Michael Barb
December 27, 2001

Gonzo vs. best practices
Barry Dennis
December 27, 2001

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