Welcome to ‘Seinfeld’ Marketing

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published June 1, 2012

In one of many famous episodes of the Seinfeld show, Jerry and George Costanza (Jason Alexander) were discussing a selling pitch to NBC for a TV series identical to the actual “Seinfeld Show.”  When asked what the show was about, the answer was “nothing.”  Here is the dialogue:

JERRY: So you’re saying, I go in to NBC, and tell them I got this idea for a show about nothing.

GEORGE: We go into NBC.

JERRY: What do we got?

GEORGE: An idea.

JERRY: What idea?

GEORGE: An idea for the show.

JERRY: I still don’t know what the idea is.

GEORGE: It’s about nothing.

JERRY: Right.

GEORGE: Everybody’s doing something, we’ll do nothing.

JERRY: So, we go into NBC, we tell them we’ve got an idea for a show about nothing.

GEORGE: Exactly.

JERRY: They say, “What’s your show about?” I say, “Nothing.”

GEORGE: There you go.

Occasionally, the investment and marketing communities fall in love with business concepts essentially about “nothing.”  The Dotcom boom/bust was about business ideas essentially about nothing and most of them failed.  While investors and lenders will occasionally become so enamored by exciting concepts that they are willing to overlook basic business model flaws – like the ability to make money.  Eventually, the Jerry Maguire (film starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr.) “Show Me The Money” phrase enters the conversation and the bubble bursts because there is no money. (I used that phrase – Show Me the Money – in a previous Wiglaf Journal article on Twitter.)

The principal remnants of the Dotcom era are Amazon and EBay.  Both survived because they were, in fact, able to generate profits.  Amazon had to change its entire business model to survive.  Selling books on-line was a loser, but making money from its backroom technology services turned out to be Amazon’s sustainable key to success.

Now we have the “social networking” phenomenon and this, too, is essentially about “nothing.”  When one thinks of business concepts we think of creators of  products and/or services generate revenues that exceed costs.  This is called profit and continuous, sustainable profitability creates shareholder wealth.  The social networking companies will need to created long-term revenue and profit-producing streams of income or they will not survive.

The Facebook IPO

The Facebook initial public offering (IPO) has the company valued over $100 billion.  One might argue that that was a bit absurd?  Where is the Facebook revenue stream?  The only thing that makes any sense would be to find advertisers willing to pay for exposure on Facebook pages when people access them to tell “friends” about themselves or learn about what their friends are doing.

Look how this whole things has played out.  Just days before the IPO, General Motors made the rather significant announcement that it is pulling its $10 million annual advertising off of Facebook because they have found their social advertising campaign to be “ineffective.” This announcement  prompted marketing consultant and author Mark Reino of MeritMile.com to comment:  “It’s relatively inexpensive to leverage technology that can provide immediate feedback on what elements of a marketing campaign are working.  Even large brands tend to follow the marketing herd, but analyzing marketing trends always reveals where the smart spending resides.”

Then, of course, there was the IPO itself and its aftermath including significant loss of stock valuation.  Contributing to this was the NASDAQ stock exchange’s serious errors in handling the initial trading of the Facebook stock.  In the long run, the success of failure of Facebook or any new stock offering will depend on the company’s ability to earn money and create sustainable wealth and value to its stockholders.

Then, There is Twitter

The premise of my recent Twitter article was the Silicon Valley debate as to if and when this company will ever turn a profit even though it possesses an unofficial capitalization of between $4 billion and $9 billion.   The problem is transforming Twitter into a money-making sustainable business.

While Facebook does show profit and loss, a market capitalization over over $100 billion will create major pressure to show huge top- and bottom-line increases on a quarterly basis.  If not, Wall Street might regard Facebook and the other social networking companies as they did the dotcom start-ups.

So, here we have the “Seinfeld syndrome,” generating interest from hard-nosed investors in a business concept about nothing.  In the Middle Ages there were alchemists who purported they could make gold out of straw.  Is history repeating itself?

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  1. Joan on June 5, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Great article, I enjoyed the comparisons in the different historically time periods!  Kudos!

  2. Webber Thom on June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Good reading, Jim.  I can’t read the Wall Street Journal, but I think I understood your article.  I can answer your last question.  History ALWAYS repeats itself.  We are just too dumb to realize it.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.