Understanding Internet Marketing Using the Muppet TheoryJuly 31st, 2012
Kermit, Miss Piggy, the Great Gonzo — the Muppets are more than colorful characters on our screens. They offer helpful insights into how to get the most from Internet marketing. Let me explain.
Chaos Muppets vs Order Muppets
In Slate.com, Dahlia Lithwick takes an irreverent look at the Supreme Court justices according to Muppet Theory, which is a reworking of ideas formalized by the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s in the 1860s. According to Nietzsche, the creative process requires a balance between order and chaos (he called it Apollonian vs Dionysian). By the way, Lithwick got 80,000 Facebook likes for her 9 paragraph blog post. Not bad!
Muppet Theory asserts there are Chaos Muppets (Cookie Monster, Ernie, etc) and Order Muppets (Kermit, Bert, etc) and that success in any creative or ambitious pursuit is about balancing these two forces. Essentially, it’s a tug-of-war between the erratic emotional desires of Dionysian Chaos Muppet forces and the regimented analytical decision-making of Apollonian Order Muppets. Without ying and yang, the argument goes, nothing great ever happens.
How Does this Apply to Internet Marketing?
I’ve been looking for a way to describe the ever-evolving recipe for Internet Marketing success and have generally failed miserably to communicate it coherently. Some of my teammates describe it as part art and part science, which I agree with.
But as a business person being roped into the “Borg-like” sphere that is internet marketing, that doesn’t really give you much to go on. I mean, art and science are by definition the realm of highly trained and talented experts, just at extreme ends of the spectrum! And yet, somehow the blog you’ve been trying to write for the last three months is somehow supposed to make a difference in the scheme of things…
The sense of confusion and lack of empowerment is understable: the Internet is an inherently technical realm, with zillions of ones and zeros and hardware and software and terms like “API” and “the cloud” being invented every day. On the other hand, marketing is a pursuit by creative, left-brain chaos Muppets. Divergent thinking reigns supreme, and standing out from the crowd is a highly-valued attribute.
“Internet marketing ties together the creative and technical aspects of the Internet, including design, development, advertising and sales.” — Wikipedia
This is why Internet Marketing is such a hard nut for many people to crack. As our fearless SEO leader, Paul Fleming says, “If you want to be found online, you have to follow best practices and play by the rules that work.” In the next breath, he’ll say, “If you want to succeed online, you have to bring something unique and creative to the table to stand from the crowd and achieve above-average results.” It’s like getting advice from Kermit and Miss Piggy at the same time. (Sorry Paul, but it’s true. That’s way better than getting advice from Animal, right?)
Creativity Goes on Top of a Technical Foundation
We always make the case that creativity should be layered on top of a solid technical foundation. Looking at similar fields, like science and music offers a neat perspective.
For instance in science, without digression from pure straight-forward logic, how would fresh innovations occur? As Louis Pasteur once claimed, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” In other words: you get lucky but only when you do your homework every night.
I have a background in music and see many parallels. In Western music, the notes and sounds are generally the all the same, but when you pair outstanding technical skill with intense creativity, you get the likes of Mozart, Bach, and Brahms. The composer with the most obvious internal Chaos vs Order Muppet conflict was probably Beethoven who said “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” Our iconic image of Beethoven is a wild renegade with tussled hair, struggling against deafness – pure Chaos Muppet. However, his musical output during that period of his life is amazingly well structured, and to this day helps to bring joy and peaceful inspiration to the lives of millions of people around the world.
The Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” was written during the most chaotic time in Beethoven’s life, when all his hearing had faded away. And yet, ironically, almost 200 years later it remains a powerful rallying cry for peace (order) loving people around the world, including the students at Tiananman Square, who played it as the tanks rolled towards them 23 years ago last month.
So How Does This Muppet Analogy Help? It’s Forces Not Factors
To bring this back to my core challenge of communicating a path to internet marketing success, I believe you can rest confortably in the knowledge that just like the world of the muppets, what determines the direction of the story is a combination of forces, and not a combination of factors.
Most people want to believe that there is a formula for success, be it in SEO or in love, but of course there isn’t. When it comes to marketing (and internet marketing especially), I believe the secret is in crafting an approach that balances the two main human instincts: analytical [order/apollonian] and creative [chaos/dionysian].
If your approach can respond to the instinctive needs and desires of your audience, and yet maximize the benefits of “playing by the rules” – you’ll not only reach the widest audience in the most efficient manner, but you’ll be on the path to converting them to your goals. Because marketing is all about influencing people’s emotional decisions, it makes sense that order and chaos have to live side by side – just like Kermit and Miss Piggy!
A secondary benefit of viewing Internet Marketing in terms of these two instinctive forces is that engagement with the many marketing channels and approaches becomes a more straightforward and manageable process. Since you don’t have to come to each 9am meeting in search of a single perfect formula for success, you’re free to tap into the diverse strengths of your team in search of the best approach, and to guide it there over time.
Thinking Outside the Box Requires a Box
The famous orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski (he’s the one in Disney’s Fantasia shaking hands with Mickey Mouse) said: “A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”
As a notoriously cranky man he may have been chiding the audience to keep quiet. My interpretation is that in any creative pursuit, you blaze your own path and literally create your future but on top of a nice clean (or quiet) canvas.
So, whether you are painting, playing the violin, or creating a landing page – to reach success, get a balance between the forces of chaos and order and keep moving forward.