Why Working In Marketing Really Reminds Me Of High School

Ok, what is marketing anyway?

At the end of the day, marketing to me isn’t about “opening up dialogues” or “journeying” or “harnessing the power of community” or “story telling” or whichever clichés that are in vogue right about now.  

(But hey, if you are a marketing guru / ninja / chief experience officer/ .., of course you’d better top up your jargon jar. It will come in handy when that C-suite meeting rolls around. Let Deborah Wahl, the CMO of McDonald’s USA, show you how.)

But back to why I think working in marketing is in fact very similar to being a kid in high school.

How so?

 It’s all about, let’s face it, trying to become more popular with as many people as possible. Sure, we care more about some of those people (the Desirables) than others (the unDesirables). But we care about the numbers nevertheless. It feels good to be popular. That’s why we always try to be friends with everyone

Here are the steps to gain success in high school / college / marketing:

1. Decide on a persona that hopefully will portray you in the most appealing light to the Desirables. Oh sure, people tell you “just stay true to who you are”, but we all know that should actually be the last thing you ever do. Stay true to the best version of who you are – maybe that’ll work.

2. Do whatever is needed. This often involves:

  • trying to be cool

  • trying to be “authentic”

  • spending a crazy amount of time everyday on social media

  • stalking and snooping around to see what others are up to

  • crafting and designing each and every appearance / word to gain maximum effect. All while pretending that this just comes to you naturally. “Oh, this old thing?”

  • mimicking the language and behaviours of the Desirables

  • associating with the cool kids, hoping the Desirables would see you hanging out with them (hey, they cost serious money to be around)

In many cases this process is neck deep in alcohol and late nights and identity crises. 

And sometimes it feels like everybody is hanging out without you.

3. Obsessively analyse the result of your performance on a regular basis.  Get frustrated because the results aren’t as rosy as you’d like them to be. An incredible surprise that you might not be able to handle is that people don’t seem to think of you as unique or snowflake-y. Sometimes – oh all right, let’s admit it – they don’t even know that you exist. Your highly anticipated debut, that is destined to disrupt the entire universe, is met with the cold, indifferent sound of nothing.

 But that’s RIDICULOUS. That’s UNTHINKABLE. I know, I feel you. I can hear the sound of you hurting right now. 

Other points that make marketing world the older, creepier twin of teenager life:

1. You blog a lot.

2. You think you know everything.

3. You love dramas. More so because you know that gossips are the bloodline of this community, and you’d take even bad publicity if that’s all you can have.

4. You are obsessed with: setting unrealistic goals, acquiring the shiny new things, dressing like an idiot, and “being heard”.

5. You would HATE to miss out on a trend. In fact, you’d rather kill yourself than missing a trendy trend trend.


6. Sometimes you have to give out free stuff to people to bribe them into liking you.

7. It’s freaking hard to be the new kid on the block.

8. People keep asking you what you really want to be (or “identity” and “mission”) and it’s honestly freaking you out.

9. You play in cliques. Only that now you call them “strategic partners” whose synergy you can strategically leverage.

10. People think you don’t know how to manage money, and if you are being honest, you probably don’t.

11. People keep mistaking you for your crazy sister (advertising)

12. Your nerdy classmate (CFO) keeps RUINING your life and dragging you down and asking you to be more responsible and grown up and blah blah blah.


In a previous life as a poor uni student, I spent my days checking up on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, consuming copious amount of chocolate and coffee, running with deadlines and losing sleep, trying to be social, trying to appear more normal and graceful than how I actually felt, .. all while unconsciously designing my actions to climb up the popularity chart.

These days as a marketer, I still do, well, just that.

Which is good. Because whatever I need to know, I already learnt back in school ;)