10 Marketing Lessons from the Beat Generation

  • Marco

Marketing inclinations, like many things in history, are prone to the influence of shifting attitudes, sensibilities and socio-cultural changes. Like most trends, marketing innovations often happen when a cluster of people, unified by time rather than space, discover new ways of doing things.

If you thought we went too far by dragging Jazz musicians into marketing and that our marketing-anecdote-blasphemy has reached its epitome, you were wrong. The thing is that there will always be many parallels even if two topics are worlds apart. So here goes another dose of playful analogy. Presenting the top ten marketing lessons from the Beat Generation. Our proclivity for irony has indeed reached new heights.

The Beats revisited

The Beat Generation was one of the most-influential cultural movements of the 20th century. It embraced originality and individuality with the way people thought and acted. The progenitors of the movement threw out the old rules of literature, music, sex and religion, and the effects of these actions are still relevant and still felt today.

It was Jack Kerouac who coined the phrase that gave the movement its name when he was proclaiming that his was a ‘Beat Generation’. There are a few notions available about what inspired Kerouac to use this particular phrase, but beat refers at least in part to beatific and beautiful. Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg, along with writer William Burroughs, formed the nucleus of the literary group that broke the mold and changed writing (and consequently, culture) forever.

Let the lesson begin

I’d like to start with two of the most indelible and finest pieces of writing ever to come out from the Beat Generation.

1.) “… the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center-light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” – Jack Kerouac (On The Road)

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” – Allen Ginsberg

Marketers must never fear change. They must never be static. They must also learn to veer away from their comfort zones. Novelty is the soul of marketing. If you are stuck with only the ‘tried and tested’ stuff and are depending on a bunch of static ‘best practices’, then you are going nowhere.

2.) “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac (The Dharma Bums)

In order to stand out, marketers usually resort to convoluted tactics. But most of us know that sometimes, the best approach is still the simplest. This works especially for content. The point is, keep it simple.

3.) “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.” – Jack Kerouac

In marketing, it is normal to be saturated with too many channels and options while having limited amount of time. It is imperative for marketers to learn how to distinguish what is important from what is not. Moderation and finding the right balance between creativity and your objectives are essential.

4.) “The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view” – Jack Kerouac (On the Road)

Marketers should never be afraid to try out different things because that is what would give them the insight on what works and what does not. You will never know the truth until you try out new things for yourself.

5.) “What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” – Jack Kerouac

Best practices are not always the best thing to do since context varies in marketing. It is important for marketers to go out and try many things. It is just a matter or sifting through everything, picking what works and keeping it.

6.) “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac (On the Road)

There is no point in sticking religiously to something that may become irrelevant tomorrow. Marketing success does not entirely depend on tried and tested formulas. A successful and reliable business model today may not work as beautifully in the future. Tomorrow will always be a whole new day.

7.) “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” – Allen Ginsberg

How many times have you heard or read the phrase “Content is King”? Well there’s a reason why that is so. Thought leadership is something that many marketers underestimate and often take for granted. They know that it is important but many fail to establish the difference between giving useful content (to gain marketing points) and mere hard sell. Remember that in terms of content, you are a publisher and not a marketer.

8.) “Rather, I think one should write, as nearly as possible, as if he were the first person on earth and was humbly and sincerely putting on paper that which he saw and experienced and loved and lost; what his passing thoughts were and his sorrows and desires.”Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac

Always be genuine to others and (most importantly) to yourself in all your marketing endeavors. You may have the gift of gab and the brilliance to back it up but in the end truthfulness is what matters. That will enable you to earn your audience’s empathy.

9.) “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.” – William S. Burroughs

Yes I know that the paranoia aspect is a bit too strong for an analogy. But let me indulge you a bit by directing this Burroughs quote to the fact that it is important for marketers to always be informed. Having awareness of what are the current trends, relevant issues, etc. will certainly go a long way in terms of helping create and sustain successful marketing efforts.

10.) “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” – William S. Burroughs

The most important rule is … there are no rules. Yes there are guidelines, but the most brilliant marketers (as history would prove) have always strayed a bit too far from what is accepted as the norm. They have, as a result, helped push the envelope and have greatly contributed to the evolution of marketing. So let me rephrase that. Yes, there are rules. But all you need to do is learn them so that you will know how to break them.

That’s it, 10 marketing lessons that you can glean from the Beat Generation. As a bonus tip, I will leave you with a parting shot from Burroughs.

“You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”

Now that’s as honest, as simple and as direct as you can get. Now if only all marketers (including me) can do the same. Everything would then be perfect.


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