January 6, 2008
hughtrain revisited: finding meaning in marketing
In June, 2004 I drew the cartoon above, which ended up being called “The Hughtrain”, affectionately named after The Cluetrain, of course.
I’ve re-published it here on this blog more times than I’d care to admit, but what the heck, there’s something about it, some sort of marketing ideal that continues to inform my thinking.
It was drawn the month I read The Cluetrain for the first time. It was also the month I read Mark Earl’s “Death of Marketing” and Tom Peters’ “Re-imagine!” for the first time.
Needless to say, all three books changed my life somewhat [especially Mark’s, as it turned out]. One evening after work, sitting at the bar, inspired by all the ideas inside these books, I cranked out the cartoon. And just to make sure people knew what the heck I was talking about, I cranked out what then became known as “The Hughtrain Manifesto”.
We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.
We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.
Some people find the whole “Marketing as Religion” angle a bit squeamish. Some people much prefer the straight-talking “This is what you get, this is how much it costs” way of doing business. I don’t see anything wrong with that, if it’s working for them.
But one thing I’ve noticed over time is, the search for personal meaning is a never-ending journey. It’s something that all normal, healthy people share. And the way said meaning is found is mostly through Love. And Love is found not just in the intoxicating blur of romantic, sexual love, but in an endless myriad of ways. Most of them pretty ordinary and everyday.
But the ordinary and everyday is full of surprises. As a wise old preacher once told me when I was a kid, “Wherever God is, Love is. And God is Everywhere.“
A few years after reading it, I am still moved by Anil Dash re-telling the words of his new father-in-law, told on the day Anil and his wife, Alaina got married.
Among the many things that were said, some of the words that my father-in-law shared with us struck me as the best lesson I learned in getting married. And like I said, it could seem simple, even obvious, when you read it on a screen, because it’s so universal. But when you live it and make a public commitment to it, it becomes downright profound.
What he told us is that, in the end, only love matters. Success and fame and wealth and even health all fade in time, and in the end all you have is love. And love is what matters. I hope everyone in the world gets the chance to discover that in the way that I have. I love you, Alaina.
If I have succeeded in marketing in the past, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was not some form of marketing genius on my part. It was simply because, on some level, I gave a damn. On some level, I cared about the product, I cared about the people making and selling it, and I cared about the people using it. And as I found out, passion is surprisingly easy to share, even with folk you don’t know. But it has to be there in the first place, and it’s devilishly hard to fake.
Using a “social object” to tap into one’s shared humanity with other people, whether it’s in the guise of a commercial product or not, is both a great pleasure and a great honor. It’s why we’re here, after all. To Love.
And that’s all marketing really needs to be in the end. An act of Love. An act of the universal human longing– the longing to bring the infinite into the realm of the finite. Four years later, The Hughtrain cartoon remains as relevant to me as ever.
[Bonus Link: The podcast I made with Mark Earls and Johnnie Moore over the weekend is now up on Johnnie’s blog..]
"Hugh's Daily Cartoon" Newsletter. A new cartoon sent out every weekday morning to your inbox [RSS version here.]. A wee chuckle to start your day off right etc.