‘Marketing Police’ aim to Expose ‘Crimes’, but Also Educate


“If you have experienced a marketing crime in your company, report it so the Marketing Police can begin an investigation,” reads the message on newly registered website marketingorseg.hu. Despite the official sounding warnings and imagery reminiscent of law enforcement agencies, the so-called “Marketing Police” is not a real authority but rather an effort by an advertising company to bring attention to bad practices common in the field. The Budapest Business Journal speaks with one of the founders of the initiative: Zoltán Sipos, director of Kreatív Kontroll talks about the goals and the ideas behind the concept as well as the future of advertising.

Zoltán Sipos of Kreatív Kontroll.

BBJ: How did you come up with the idea of a Marketing Police?

Zoltán Sipos: I don’t want to hide the fact that our motivation was partially to give our company more exposure. We do, however, have a mission as well. Currently, there is a change of generations in the field of marketing in Hungary; older professionals are giving way to young business leaders. During this process, we can see a certain drop in the overall quality of services provided by marketing companies. The problem is that the marketing community has little ability to correct itself. As a result, customers – mostly small business owners – have a hard time deciding who to trust.

BBJ: Currently your site has little content. What do you want to present on it in the future? Do you plan to name and shame companies that use unethical or unprofessional practices?

ZS: We want to showcase bad practices in marketing. We have neither authority to, nor do we want to, shame concrete individuals or companies. The term “Marketing Police” is mostly just guerilla marketing. We parody the communication panels of law enforcement agencies to gain more attention and get our message across more effectively.

Our message is that marketing is a legitimate profession. It is not the load of quackery many people think it is, but a profession based on numbers and hard data. Or it should be. However, due to the lack of rigorous standards in the marketing community, many businesses have had unpleasant experiences with marketing companies and now believe that either every so called marketing expert is a charlatan or that good marketing costs too much. This is what we would like to change.

Later we plan to launch training programs for business owners, showing them how to choose between marketing-related offers. We are also going to offer materials on buying ad space or about how Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms work.

BBJ: What are “marketing crimes”?

ZS: Let’s say a marketing agency gets to set an advertising budget for a company. At the end of the year, charts show that Google ads bring much more revenue than banner ads bought on news websites. However next year, they put even more money into banner ads. Why? Because banner ad space is bought through sales houses, and unlike Google and Facebook, they pay back a percentage of the price to the middle man – the advertising company.

This is an example of a “marketing crime” because the advertising company cares more about its own interest than the interest of the customer. Another common “crime” is when the agency omits to recommend new effective tools to the customer because they do not have the capacity to implement them. For example, when the company does not have an employee adept at using Instagram, so they never recommend using the platform to the customer, fearing that they would contract with another agency.

We can humorously call badly design websites or other promotional material crimes as well. I like to liken those to pollution.

BBJ: Do you plan to tackle ethics in advertising?

ZS: Yes, we plan to bring attention to the rules found in the code of the Hungarian Advertising Alliance (MRSZ). Online marketing and direct marketing are both largely unregulated and are often aimed at vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and people suffering from illness. We have no issue with showcasing such ads as bad examples, especially ones that give false promises of treating medical conditions. Such ads can even be illegal; naturally, only the authorities can start a prosecution. There are legitimate reasons while marketing experts have gained a bad reputation in recent years, and we should address these.

BBJ: On your site you claim that content marketing is now an indispensable part of a marketing plan. Why?

ZS: I prefer the term permission marketing, because it is about corporate content that people decide to view. In the past, advertising was mainly about what we can call invasive ads: television spots, posters, banner ads on websites and so on. These are getting less and less effective. Most people did not really want to see these ads but they were unavoidable. However, today I can easily block banners and popups on the internet and skip commercials on my digital television.

More and more people only see ads that they are actually interested in: they subscribed to a newsletter, clicked on a video or downloaded a catalogue. Companies now have to build their own media and fill it with content that people actually find interesting.

BBJ: Might that not lead to problems? It is becoming harder to distinguish between independent opinions and paid content.

ZS: Currently, this is often true. Influencers, for example, often omit to say if they were paid to talk about a product or not. I think the ethical thing to do is to indicate if a content has been paid for in some way, although I do not think it is necessary if we are talking about a medium that is directly run by a company. You do not need to repeat at the end of every article on the official Coca-Cola blog that “This article has been sponsored by Coca-Cola”.

Currently a lot of Hungarian companies try to hide that they pay for content marketing but I think they should not be ashamed of it. Maybe it is because both companies and influencers see marketing itself as a form of manipulation and only indicate paid content when they are legally required to. But if more rigorous ethics become widespread in the field, having paid content will be seen as more normal.

BBJ: There is another consequence of the decline of invasive advertising: banners and ad space is how the media, including online news sites can make a living. Can they survive if traditional advertising disappears?

ZS: I am not that pessimistic about their future. In the United States, traditional magazines are successfully experimenting with alternative financing models such as subscription and donations. Building readers’ clubs are even more effective, where paying members get access to extra content and can attend offline events.

It is inevitable that magazines have to rely more on branded content, including articles or videos sponsored by companies, showcasing products in an entertaining or informative way.

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