The AdPulp Interview: Marc Babej

Writer, brand strategist and entrepreneur Marc Babej, was kind enough to “sit” for some questions over the New Year’s break. Marc is a frequent contributor to the comments section here and a prolific blogger in his own right. He manages all this while running Reason, Inc., a firm that specializes in strategic insight and development. Babej’s firm is located at 80 Madison Avenue. When he speaks, perhaps he speaks not only for himself, but for the new Madison Avenue.
Q. I see you worked at Deutsch. What’s the Donny all about?
A. I was an entry-level planner when I worked at Deutsch, but I had a fair amount of exposure to Donny because I was assigned to new business pitches. I liked and respected him from the start. He’s smart, intuitive and talented. What really sets him apart, though is that what you see is actually what you get. Some times you like what you see more than others, but you don’t have to deconstruct what he says in search of hidden motives. That’s particularly refreshing in a business that, by its very nature, attracts many manipulative types.
Q. You also worked at Kirshenbaum + Bond. I thought it was amazing and brave of those guys to spell it all out like they did in Under the Radar.
A. I wouldn’t call it brave. More often than not when ad people write a book, it’s to boost two things: new business and their own egos. That said, they did spell out what was, at the time, innovative thinking. By the way: much of that great thinking was produced by my former mentor Nigel Carr, who was the agency’s planning director for almost a decade… and in many ways the brains behind the operation.
Q. You speak four languages. Most Americans can barely speak one. Are you, in fact, an American?  
A. Not yet, but I’m about to become one. I was born in Germany and lived there until I was sixteen. The languages are incredibly useful, but also not a big deal. When different languages are a couple of hundred miles away, you’re bound pick them up.
Q. What motivated you to start blogging?
A. I hesitated about it for a long time because I’m allergic to hype. But once in a while, hype is in order. Blogging is great because it encourages people to be real. The results aren’t always pretty, but I’ll take “real” over “pretty” any day. The only thing missing from blogs in my mind were ratings, so I added them to my blog. Except for interviews, everything is rated on Being Reasonable. It’s a great exercise to boil an analysis or opinion down to a number… and it lets readers know right off the bat where I stand.
Q. Speaking of your blog…Being Reasonable is an interesting title for it. Does “Being Reasonable” sum up the Babejian ethos?
A. “Babejian ethos”? You need a more pronounceable name to have an anything-ian ethos. That said: yes, it does. My company is called Reason Inc. because I believe that the defining standard for marketing strategy is a reason to choose a product or company over the competition. Being Reasonable started out as the name of my column in Media Magazine. I liked it because it has a self-deprecating double meaning. After all, “reasonable” means both “sensible” and “average.” And it sounded like a classic name for a magazine column. By blog name standards, it’s what you would generously call an “outlier.” It’s the kind of blog name a totally uncool person would think is really cool. I thought it would be amusing to be prejudged as a dork.
Q. You’ve coined the terms “Motivation Engineering” and “Actionable Futurism” and hold service marks on them. How important is it to own these terms? Don’t you want other people to use them?
A. There are a lot of gimmicky catchphrases out there, but once in a blue moon you develop a concept really deserves a name of its own. And when you stumble on such a concept, you want it to be your baby. It’s like owning a url. It’s the same way with trademarks. At some point, it might make sense to let other people use these phrases. That’s when you abandon a trademark, or just let it expire.
Q. As a professional journalist, do you find it hard to fully embrace the citizen’s media movement?  
A. Not at all: I think it’s one of the best things to happen to journalism in a long time because it forces the profession to define the difference and reinvent its role. Nothing motivates progress as much as competition, and citizen journalism is competition. That said, citizen journalism is more than just competition to professionals. It’s also a source of ideas, leads and inspiration. Stuart Elliott and Brian Steinberg, for example, read marketing blogs regularly.
If you need more Babej than we can possibly provide, head over to Tom Asacker’s place.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.