Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Kittens Do Not, In Fact, Die When Marketing Wins

Jared Spool makes a “witty” comment at An Event Apart that gets rebroadcast by Jeffrey Zeldman and retweeted by dozens of others and I get all riled up because the comment — and the thinking behind it — is totally stupid.

During An Event Apart this month in San Francisco, Jared Spool, someone I greatly admire, allegedly1 made this comment, as reported by Jeffrey Zeldman and others:

Kittens die when marketing people win.

There’s a lot of people who would laugh at that. On the surface, it has the appearance of wit. Marketing people iz stoopid. Those knuckle-dragging liberal arts mouth-breathers always want starbursts and they ruined Twitter and did you see that funny thing about Microsoft

But really, the comment is shallow, and predictable, and hypocritical.

Marketing is a necessary function of business. To take a cheap shot at the millions who work in the industry is half-baked. It’s unfortunate this low-brow opinion comes up all the time in circles of web development; programmers and functional experts inexplicably think their work is somehow separate or above those that are “in marketing”. These knee-slapping hee-haw zingers are as common as Rackspace-hosted after parties. My guess is the crowd got a good laugh.

Most hysterical is that these moldy slices of dull, unfunny thinking are rebroadcast and retweeted by scores of web developers and designers. These are people who work for in-house teams or agencies — groups whose core function is marketing. Last time I checked, we were all on the same team, and we were all trying to win together.

Encouraging bipartisan thinking seems counter-productive. But what the fuck do I know; I’m just in marketing.

1 Some might argue that I’m taking the comment out of context — I was not in the room after all. Fair enough. But Zeldman (who quoted Jared) has over 260k followers. At best, only 0.1% of his Twitter audience was in the room, and this does not even take into account the thousands more reached through retweets. I argue that Jared’s comment was designed to be taken out of context, designed to be a standalone joke, designed to be the perfect packaging length of a tweet, and designed to incite a reaction.

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commentary + criticism

Micah Choquette

wrote the following on Thursday December 22, 2011

Thanks for saying this. For all their faults, a brand needs a good Marketing department. I also believe that it’s completely possible work well with one, provided you each respect the other’s experience and strengths. And you hit the nail on the head when you called them on it – web design is marketing, too.

Colin Pritchard

wrote the following on Thursday December 22, 2011

I think it is easy for designers to take shots at marketers. I know I have. Possibly out of frustration that marketing people sometimes do not understand design, or trust their designers enough. But ultimately, you are correct—we are all in this together. The vast majority of design is a function of marketing. The two are oftentimes inseparable.

I think more respect on both sides — from designers to marketers and vice versa — is needed.

Patty Korzeniewski

wrote the following on Thursday January 19, 2012

One may design the most indispensable, functional product or service, but do not have the “marketing sense” or insight to promote and sell it to the masses. One example is John Landis Mason, who invented the threaded glass jar with screw-on lid for preserving food in the 19th Century. He sold the patent rights for his Mason jar for a small sum, and then went on inventing other things. He died in NYC in poverty.


wrote the following on Monday February 6, 2012

I think often such statements are made by people against themselves, rather than it being designers against marketers. Usually designers will have come from an art school background, where getting a job working for business rather than art is going to be seen as selling out (but sadly necessary in most cases!)


wrote the following on Friday March 9, 2012

Marketing can be used for evil (and it does everyday) but is as necessary and useful as any other part of a business.

“Kittens die”? We once literally saved some puppies (not the same thing, but close) thanks to a small marketing campaign.

The “save the world” guys, Greenpeace, “Feed Africa” are in business because of marketing. The“bad” use of marketing exists because of bad people.

The say goes: “guns do not kill people, people kill people”. Change “guns” for “marketing” and you have the perfect analogy.

Lasha Krikheli

wrote the following on Friday March 30, 2012

Spot on, dude. People who say shit like that just don’t get the big picture of the world we live in, business, and the internet as whole. Everything simply does revolve around marketing, as mentioned by the commenters above. I have a degree in Communication Design where Advertising a huge part of my studies, and the conclusion is that bad people can do bad things with advertising and marketing, but great people can do even greater things. :)


wrote the following on Tuesday April 3, 2012

I find that some of those in marketing try to be too artsy, and as such, don’t push the brand/product well enough. You walk away with ‘what a cool campaign’, but not remembering the brand/product.

Of course, alienating your teammates won’t get them to see your point of view.