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To Thine Own Self: Honesty In Marketing

In my second book “To Thine Own Self:  Honesty in Marketing,” I attempt to offer a way for marketers to give up the disingenuousness that characterizes – and debases—the profession.  If my first book “Cool is for Fools” was about helping marketers reclaim their profession, this book is about creating honest and just frameworks from which to act as a marketer.  Of course, this book is only a very small step in the larger journey, but it may provide some hope to those who want to be ethical while pursuing a career in marketing.

In one of the lead snippets in the book, I posit that all companies ought to hire what I call a “Marketing Ethicist.”  In the pages that follow, I lambast places like Build-a-Bear Workshop for essentially conning harried parents into wasting money, and I suggest that Facebook executives ought to publicly apologize for their bungled IPO, which lost ordinary people billions of dollars.  In one place, I discuss the admonition given to us by political activist Abe Osheroff – who defined authenticity in the most profound way I have ever heard; in another, I criticize social media pundits for their fatuous claims about the role of their platforms in the Arab Spring.

Despite their inherent diversity, these are all questions of marketing, specifically of what sort of marketers we all want to be.

I cannot make claims about this book’s place in the pantheon of great marketing writing.  Perhaps my ideas will help others, perhaps not.  What is definite is that whatever small success I’ve had in my profession did not come from the result of any training in the discipline (I had none) or from coloring within the lines.  I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some extraordinary marketers, and what has helped me by far the most is my ability to connect many different worlds (politics, history, psychology) to marketing, which itself becomes simply a reflective pool for so much else.

Writing the piece for this book was incredibly fun and cathartic.  The team I worked with to put the book together was an absolutely fantastic (thanks Steve, Eve, Bill, Pam) source of ideas and support.  I hope readers enjoy the book.

Most of all, I hope that more people fuse marketing and honesty.  Not doing so would be perhaps the single greatest abdication we can make as professionals.


If you're a serious and conscientious marketer, you must read "To Thine Own Self." Should Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the only US holiday that celebrates peaceful resistance to power, be used by corporations as an occasion for consumer-duping "blowout sales"? Should marketers promote state lotteries, which cut deficits by making the poor poorer? On a slightly lighter note, should zoos be selling "endangered species animal cookies"? These questions, the reader will be pleased to know, are not being asked by a side-burned assistant professor of sociology (who, having given up on tenure, is hoping simply for a conquest of the adoring sophomore in the second row). Far from it. Romi Mahajan is a seasoned marketer who earned his stripes at top US corporations--and he's disgusted with the state of modern marketing. Moreover, he foresees that the general failure of reckless, dishonest marketing can and will lead to a new era of ethics in the profession--one that is good for consumers and companies alike. He can't solve every problem, and humbly tells of how he--on his own or pressured by his kids--participates in modern consumer insanity. But his new book, "To Thine Own Self," is a dead-serious exhortation to marketers to curb advertising lunacy and work from the inside to restore consumer trust, wherever possible, through the ethical practice of the marketing trade. His medium is the short essay, so his specialty is "provocation"--overused in book reviews but very fitting here. This welcome book provokes a score of debates, and it is up to individual marketers to engage in them. Romi is enduringly optimistic that a better marketing world will follow.