ethics of marketing writing

Subject: ethics of marketing writing
From: Anatole Wilson <awilson -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1993 13:46:52 PST

Steven Owens <uso01 -at- MAILHOST -dot- UNIDATA -dot- COM> writes:
>>Anatole Wison says:
> There are no ethical concerns for technical writing that do not also apply
> for marketing writing. Mis-representing a product in any way is just as
>> unethical in marketing writing as it is in technical writing.

>Anatole, where are you going with this whole thread? You seem to be
>championing a personal cause to defend or advance the image of marketing
>writing. Is this from a perceived negative image associated with
>marketing, or do you have another destination in mind?

I wouldn't call it a personal cause, but I keep seeing posts here
that imply--if they don't say it outright--that writing with an
eye towards the marketing of your product is somehow immoral, a
disservice to the reader/user, and that a "Technical Writer" writing
marketing materials is akin to Beethoven writing a jingle for
Roto-Rooter. I saw this again when in a survey
of posts on the subject, the conclusion asked if there was a different
set of ethical rules for marketing writing than there is for
technical writing. My answer is simply "no." If the marketing
literature fails to fully inform the customer about the product,
then that literature is doing a disservice to both the customer and
the product, especially since the misled customer will probably
return the purchase.

I don't believe I'm embarking on a personal crusade. What I'm trying
to do is point out a current trend--traditionally "technical" writers
being asked (or required) to produce marketing materials--and explain
that 1) you're not selling your soul if you do it; 2) technical
writers are the best-suited writers for high-tech marketing; 3) good
(and effective) marketing writing *is* specific and informative, and
if it's done right, is a service to the reader/user; 4) it's not
as different from technical writing as many people think--most
good technical writers already have the skills to write good marketing
materials; and 5) keeping some marketing principles in mind while
writing user manuals, etc., is not necessarily a bad idea. It keeps
you focused on how what you're describing helps the reader/user.

>I think I understand how to write persuasively as well as how to write
>informatively, and I think I understand the difference between them.

And I'd argue that writing informatively *is* the best way to write
persuasively. The difference is in the style of writing, not the
actual content.

>Yes, technical writing and marketing have some things in common, but
>they have a lot that's not in common.

>Both technical writing and marketing writing require an understanding of
the product. Both require you to convey that understanding to the reader.
>But they have different ends in mind.

>Technical writing -> Understand how to use the Product.

>Marketing writing -> Understand how you can benefit from the Product.

Hmmm. I'd amend this to say that technical writing's end is not only
to tell you *how* to use the product, but in some cases (depending on
the audience) *why* you want to use the product. If I don't know that
a certain feature is going to help me get my job done better/faster/
more efficiently, I'm not going to waste time learning how to use it.
So guess what--I want the technical manual to show me some *benefits*.

>To achieve this aim, both technical and marketing writing must first
>convey a basic understanding of the product. I've noticed that
>marketing writing has an overwhelming tendency to try to leap straight
>to the benefits part. In most cases where they DO take the time to go

Well, if I were marketing a product, I'd lead with a benefit and then go
on to the explanation. Is that what you mean? I'd never list an
unexplained benefit--why should anyone believe me?

>through the "understand the product" stage, they almost always seem to
>take pains to OBFUSCATE rather than explain. This is what I find most
>annoying about reading marketing material.

And again, I say that's a sign of BAD marketing writing that fails to
reach its audience. Chances are that in those cases, the writer either
didn't understand the product and hoped the audience knew what was
being talked about, or the writer over-estimated the audience's level
of understanding. That's why a godd tech writer familiar with both the
product and the intended audience can do a better job.

I have no ethical problem with marketing, but frankly there are different
motivations on the writer's part and that influences the type of writing.
>The technical writer assumes the reader's goal is to be able to use the
>product, and works from there. The marketing writer is actively trying
>to shape the reader's goal.

I agree with your analysis of the technical writer's goal. But the
goal of the *marketing* writer is not to shape the reader's goal, but
to convince the reader that the best way for the reader to reach the
goals he/she already has is to use that product. (Please note that I'm
talking here about technical products that fill a real need, not
anti-perspirants or dandruff shampoos where the need is manufactured
by the marketing.)

>Despite any fluff about "You can feel good about what you're doing
>because your product really is high quality and it's in the reader's
>best interest to purchase it", it boils down to the marketing writer
>trying to influence the reader's decision, and the technical writer
>trying to facilitate the reader's decision.

If I told you to buy gloves for the winter instead of mittens because
gloves let you use all of your fingers to tie your shoes, have I
influenced your decision or facilitated it? Is that a pure
marketing statement, or could it be considered technical because I
explained a feature of gloves, i.e., better tactile control? Or do I
need to include instructions on tying shoes for it to be a technical

>Both technical writing and marketing must be persuasive, but they have
>different ends:

> Technical writing must persuade the reader to LEARN.

> Marketing writing must persuade the reader to BUY.

There's a clothing store in Pittsburgh called Sym's, whose motto is
"the informed consumer is our best customer." I can't say it any
better than that.

As a last rabid rant, let me repeat--the balance between good marketing
and good technical writing is difficult--important details should never
be sacrificed for the sake of marketing. But when well-crafted, the
technical and marketing writing can complement each other, and produce
better results all around. And, of course, this depends totally on the
the purpose of the piece you're developing and how the audience will use

Anatole Wilson If anyone objects to any
Sr. Assoc. Information Developer statement I make, I am
IBM, Santa Teresa Labs quite prepared not only
awilson -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com to retract it, but to
deny under oath that I
all company disclaimers apply ever made it.

Previous by Author: ethics of technical to marketing writing
Next by Author: ethics of marketing writing
Previous by Thread: Re: All caps - why?
Next by Thread: ethics of marketing writing

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads