I missed Scott Dikkers speaking at Resolve 2019, but I made up for it, I hope, by reading Outrageous Marketing, which is less a book strictly about marketing than about the history of The Onion, certainly one of the most ingenious ventures ever put together under the moniker of “news.”
And still, like any other entrepreneurial venture, The Onion had its share of difficulties. It took years to get attention from its humble beginnings on a college campus, and though Dikkers admits that “Getting people’s attention is the commodity,” he also acknowledges that one must keep the attention. But “branding” is rather the important thing in what Dikkers calls the “Love Economy,” where an outfit like the Onion can position themselves to be, well, loved. To be the target of people’s search. And The Onion knows what people need in difficult times: to laugh.
The book is mainly biographical: how the author found his calling, tapped into the right vibe (the Generation X “slacker vibe made famous by, say, Seinfeld), managed a team of sometimes surly writers, and established a meritocracy (his strategies here being “(1) focusing on quantity to achieve quality and (2) judging material on its merits, apart from ego”). He compares his organization to Harvard’s famous National Lampoon, which fell precipitously in popularity over time.
Like any other company, The Onion endured staff changes; how does one remain “unique” in such circumstances? His answer is to make everything anonymous. Granted, things like this won’t work for every company, particularly if they involve writers, but such is his wisdom. And even with such wisdom, Dikkers makes mistakes, which he admits to. There was legal trouble, too. And backlashes. But also fun jabs at Trump, not yet president at the time, that are both amusing and disconcerting.
He ends the book with his “13 insights.” They involve things you probably already know and attempt to adhere to. Love what you do. Build fans, not profits. Find the best people. Free your creatives to come up with the outrageous ideas.
I would not say there is anything overtly stellar here. Again, the book is not about marketing per se, but rather what worked for Dikkers on a very odd creation. The Onion really does stand alone, and so it may be difficult to try to draw a correspondence between, well, Capture Higher Ed and that bastion of humor. Is it worth a read? Possibly, though, as with The Onion itself, one should expect to read it for humor.