The great complexification

Here at IMC David Weinberger is on his feet. He’s having a go at marketing. Here’s one of his ideas which hits the spot for me. I’m paraphrasing here but I think I’ve got the gist.

Marketing has tended to fixate on simplification. We hear a lot about the importance of the elevator pitch the sharp tagline, the short sharp positioning statement or headline.

Marketing oversimplifies… which generally demeans consumers. He gives as examples the mainly crass straplines used to promote US cities.

Now, enter the blogosphere and a world where the customers are talking to each other.

This is a world where George Bush makes an important speech and his speechwriters distil it down to 2500 words, to articulate a simple idea. Within hours, there are 2500 separate blog posts relating to it, one interpretation for every word.

What goes on in the blogosphere is the great complexification… the blogosphere makes things complex again which runs against every instinct of marketers

In the ensuing discussion, several folks are keen to distinguish between marketing communications and all the other stuff marketing people do, which is a fair point.

There’s a point somewhere here about the paradox of complexity vs simplicity but I’ll save it for another day.

4 thoughts on “The great complexification

  1. Uncle Buck


    Complexity is better left as something that emerges from the interactions of

    much simpler components. Man’s efforts are developing complex structures

    always have unintended consequences, generally negative ones.

    In a marketing context, simple messages create complexity through the myriad

    of different consumer interpretations, their individual experiences owning &

    using the products and through sharing them with others.

    And there are good reasons from human neurobiology (mainly to do with the

    functioning and capacity of working memory) why marketing messages are best

    left simple.


    You’ve certainly touched on my current preoccupation Johnnie,

    I think the worst thing is that ‘short’ has for these reasons become synonymous with ‘smart’. That’s an absolute ‘short’ and not just ‘no longer than it really needs to be’.

    After thirty years of accumulating knowledge, experience and a healthy baggage of uncertainties, I still feeling intellectually inadequate when I want to raise questions that take a long time to set out and clarify.

    Somehow, if it doesn’t reduce to a neo-sound-bite it must be unwieldy and dumb. If I haven’t gone to extreme lengths to concentrate and puree it so that “busy people” get it in one – then I have done them a terrible discourtesy and I have failed to appreciate the nature of the modern world. I certainly have no right to expect a response.

    So I think “it’s worse than that Jim”. I think the marketing paradigm has penetrated many other areas of work and even academic endeavour.

    This is also manifest in my bete noir – sensationalist and over-simplified news headlines. The sensation exploits the temptation offered by the simplification. Even in the most respected institutions the black and white one-liner (often inviting the hearer to take sides instantly) belies its hinterland of shades of uncertainty, interpretation and – heaven forbid -facts that have to be mastered and understood.

    I hope that was short enough?

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks Graham and Uncle Buck, it’s a rich area for thought.

    I like the notion of “as short as it needs to be” (I think Einstein said something along the same lines). Some ideas are sold short by oversimplification. I share some of your pain, Uncle Buck, at the newspaper headlines.

    At the same time, simple ideas that are held lightly often support others in building more complex meanings.

    I try to distinguish between the complex, which can never be fully known or made fully explicit, and complicated – which can be made fully explicit. Often, I see failed efforts to capture the nuances and ambiguities of the complex with over-complicated narratives and diagrams.

  3. Alexander Kjerulf

    Great point, Johnnie. May I point to one interesting thought on complexity

    and simplicity:

    I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I

    would give my life for for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

    – Oliver Wendell Holmes

    More here:

    I would argue that Bush’s 2500 words fall inside the simplicity on this side

    of complexity. The 2500 blog posts are complexity.

    So where’s the simplicity on the other side of that complexity? THAT’S the

    question. How to aggregate al those different view into a whole that is as

    “simple” as the original speech but simple in a different way.


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