Home > MARKETING > Are You Marketing Like MacGyver or MacGruber?

Are You Marketing Like MacGyver or MacGruber?

December 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments


I just got off the phone with a business consultant I’ve done dozens of campaigns for. He’s one of those guys that makes it fun to dive deep on every topic from brand positioning to operations to product strategy and all points between. And he always feigns amusement at my infamous analogies and metaphors.

So he calls me today to go over a situation where a manager in one of the start-ups he counsels came up with a promotional campaign and was adamant it launch ASAP. It sucked. As I listened in horror to the mishmash of amateur concepting, dismissal of culture, political pandering, and lack of strategy I was almost speechless.

After a few seconds of assessing the ridiculosity, out came my unlacquered assessment of the situation:

The guy thinks he’s doing MacGyver marketing, but the truth is it’s MacGRUBER marketing.

Sharing my love of campy SNL characters-turned-movie-stars, the consultant chuckled and agreed.
But we both realized this was no laughing matter. A principal in a promising start-up was trying to prematurely self-medicate his marketing, and the result was going to cause brand damage before the company even has a chance to make its first impression in the marketplace.

I’m not even sure MacGyver could duct tape his way out of this.

Everyone in the marketing industry has probably faced that moment when something has to happen and it has to happen fast. And with very little budget.

The best marketers embrace those moments, seeing it as a chance to show how brilliantly MacGyver they can be.

Unfortunately, the worst marketers also embrace those moments. Not realizing it’s a chance for everyone to see how shamelessly MacGruber they can be.

Wondering if someone you know is a MacGyver marketer or a MacGruber marketer? Let’s see how each handles basic marketing scenarios:


MacGyver: MacGyver may not always have the exact tools he needs to solve a problem, but what he lacks in available resources he makes up by understanding the problem at its core level and approaching a solution strategically. Once he knows what he wants to accomplish, he gathers everything he can and sets out to solve the problem, simply and brilliantly.

McGruber: Instead of approaching a problem or situation by asking what ultimately needs to be achieved, MacGruber looks around for what’s handy and convenient, and tries to solve the problem before truly understanding the desired outcome. Consequently, he’ll come up with a flashy way to pry open a door… while the bomb is still counting down. He may have solved a problem. But it wasn’t THE problem. Which just leaves a bigger problem down the road.

Decision Making

MacGyver: When faced with a marketing situation, there’s always short-term and long-term repercussions to address. MacGuyver would realize it’s much easier to run from a ticking time bomb, but he’d also realize that while he’s hauling butt back to the Jeep, the bomb will blow up a perfectly good building. And whoever’s inside. MacGuyver won’t trade long-term outcomes for a short-term fix. He clearly understands the difference between duct tape and Band-aids.

MacGruber: For MacGruber, everything happens in the moment. And that’s how he prefers to handle situations. MacGruber marketers rarely work against a big boy marketing plan (if they even think they need one), they rarely see the core value of the product, and as much as they love to talk about the consumer they rarely do what it takes to understand them. Instead of having vision and prescience, MacGrubers are too focused on the present to think clearly and make strategic decisions.


MacGyver: MacGyver marketers know where to put their attention. Even though they may be faced with an emergency situation once in awhile, they’re always focused on the big picture. They understand that marketing objectives drive everything they do. And any time they’re put in a scenario where someone is freaking out, asking for things that aren’t on-strategy, or demanding that something/anything gets done fast, they always refocus the team and give clear guidance on true priorities.

MacGruber: MacGruber fancies himself a marketing hero. His Twitter picture probably has him in a cape. Forget the hard work, exposure to smart marketers, and and years of experience that should have happened behind-the-scenes. MacGruber wants to be seen as a marketing pro NOW. And what better way than to blurt out ideas and solutions on the fly without having a clue which strategy he’s working against. Objectives and strategies are just things that get in the way of him demonstrating his manic ADD “creativity,” and using recently-acquired vocabulary words like authenticity, engagement, and influence.


MacGyver: MacGyver knows there’s more to a situation than what onlookers can see. So when helpless victim #1 screams in his ear that the temperature in the room is too hot, and helpless victim #2 demands that he fix the thermostat before putting out the fire, MacGyver has the confidence and composure to respond. MacGyvers make sure they don’t let someone coerce them into spending time putting out fires when there’s a bomb to deal with.

MacGruber: On the other hand, MacGruber’s lack of strategic thinking forces him to live in a reactive state, thriving in crisis situations and jumping every time someone yells “FIRE!” Because when something’s not on fire, his time is spent looking up new vocabulary words or harvesting crops on Farmville. MacGruber’s highest strategic achievement is realizing that allowing a crisis to happen lets him be reactive rather than proactive. Which makes him look busy and effective. Exactly what he is not.


MacGyver: MacGyver knows where to invest his effort. Abandoned buildings near military bases. Suspicious airplane hangars. Inside burning buildings. These are the places MacGuyver knows his expertise will have the biggest impact. This is where MacGyver goes. He does the legwork, researches the situation, and always manages to be where the action is, right when he’s needed.

MacGruber: MacGruber believes he’s the center of the universe. He can’t be bothered with monitoring programs that might point out that his target demographic isn’t on Google Buzz or that they aren’t playing Scramble anymore. In fact, he’d rather not deal with anything that reminds him there’s a target demographic. He just likes to implement his ideas, and avoids any facts or figures (or people) that might shoot them down.


MacGyver: MacGyver knows at the end of the day, all his hard work and duct tape expenses should be paying off. Lives should be saved. Buildings not exploded. Mullets in fashion. MacGyver doesn’t want to be racing around getting cats out of trees, so he makes sure his efforts are resulting in real success, not just good PR.

MacGruber: Meanwhile, MacGruber thinks everything he does is worthwhile. The fact that he’s active and doing something is what matters to him. Job descriptions are irrelevant. Measurement be damned. When he feels busy, he feels valuable. And based on the damage McGruber can do when he’s busy, there’s very little need for the baddies MacGyver routinely deals with. McGruber brings plenty of chaos upon the universe all by himself.

Join the Conversation…

What are some other ways MacGruber marketers gum up the works?

Do MacGruber marketers realize what they’re doing?

Related Posts with Thumbnails
  1. December 29th, 2010 at 19:29 | #1

    Michelle- I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that when you put MacGruber in the title of this post, I could guess where you would be going. …So if you tell us in the next post to stroke the furry wall, we will all have to agree that tigers love pepper, and be done with it. < wink >

    Seriously, though, I know the moment you speak of… when you see someone who thinks he knows what he’s doing, and from your professional perspective you also see that really he’s just on the way to screwing it up, monumentally.

    When it comes to stepping in to help right the situation, what matters most is acting on the insights you unfold in the section on ROI: “And when he feels busy, he feels valuable. … Being in the middle of everything happening is gold.”

    Approaching the MacGruber with respect and empathy, helping him stay in the middle (or at least feel in the middle) and helping him take relevant, effective action (gently guided by you), can get him closer to effectiveness.

    Alternatively, you can give him his own role of duct tape and hope for the best.

  2. December 30th, 2010 at 12:08 | #2

    Loved this Michelle (just wish my Reader would fill up with posts from you more frequently :)

    Although I don’t get the cultural references from this side of the Atlantic, I picked up what you’re saying with a bit of help from Google. You’re spot on, but how do you sit down the MacGrubers of this world and get them to breathe, take a moment and listen. CVH’s comment was a good start, but I’m curious on your take about this. Do you step in or do you just abandon them to their own fate?

    Just getting people to listen – and especially the MacGrubers of this world – can be a job in itself.

  3. December 30th, 2010 at 15:45 | #3

    Thanks for the comment, CV! You bring up a great point about having respect and empathy for MacGruber marketers. It goes without saying we should always have empathy for everyone we encounter. But it’s also good to bring shortcomings out in a light-hearted way.

    From what I’ve seen, most practicing marketers who might qualify as a MacGruber aren’t 100% MacGruber. They probably also do some things right. Where they fail is that they probably haven’t had many opportunities to be accountable, so they don’t have the experience, perspective, and growth that would help them realize they’re being inefficient or counter-productive.

    In defense of MacGrubers, a lot of the trouble they get into comes from being very reactive. That reactiveness has probably served them well in the past, but the more complicated the issues become and the higher the stakes and expectations, the less effective that reactivity is. Being an energetic “dynamo” early in their career might have gotten a MacGruber into the role, but their energy and ideas eventually work against them if they become a crutch that make up for lack of discipline, planning, and accountability.

  4. December 30th, 2010 at 15:55 | #4

    Jon, thanks so much for supporting the blog! It means a lot!

    If you’ve missed the cultural phenomenon that is MacGyver, you’re missing out. (Grab it on Netflix!) I love MacGyver and writing this post has made me wish there were some reruns on.

    To answer your question… I think it’s up to the people around a MacGruber marketer to use logic as a way to reach them. When someone (whether it’s an actual marketer, a principal, or a team member) starts coming up with ideas or taking actions that lack strategy, focus, or accountability for long-term objectives, necessity dictates that you respond to their plans and explain the logical progression of what will happen if it’s implemented.

    The thing about MacGrubers is that they want to look smart and gain respect, so if you educate them in a tactful, respectful way they’ll be more likely to adopt your line of thinking. And learn. Of course educating someone to use better practices is never as easy as that, but it’s a start!

  5. Anonymous
    December 30th, 2010 at 20:36 | #5

    Really love this post!

    The thing is I think we all have a little MacGruber in us. It can be hard when we have deadlines and clients to stay focused and on task. There are times when the easy way out becomes very tempting. Especially when you have a client looking for the flash and quick-fix of the MacGruber style.

    So thank you for keeping it honest. Bookmarking this post for future use.

    PS. I like my cape ;)

  6. January 10th, 2011 at 22:26 | #6

    Hi Michelle,

    Awesome, awesome post… very well-written and clever and anytime someone can weave in an 80s fictional hero into a post, I’m there…

    Reading this post I am reminded of a classic line from one of the Star Trek movies from, when else, the 80’s

    “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

    That’s how a MacGyver sees it.

    A MacGruber of course sees it the other way around.

    Again, great post Michelle!

    All the best,
    Steve O

  1. December 29th, 2010 at 15:28 | #1
  2. January 10th, 2011 at 17:56 | #2
Comments are closed.
blog comments powered by Disqus