Marketing principle #1: Everyone needs a Gluten

Ian Lurie
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My wife has me trying to eat gluten-free for a few weeks.
That means no bread, cookies, pizza, pasta. It’s like I’ve been told, “Ian, from now on, food will suck”.
But I’m doing it. Voluntarily.
If Dawn had simply told me, “Eat less starch, eat more veggies, and reduce caloric intake,” I’d totally fail.
What’s the difference? I need an opponent: Gluten is the bad guy. Tell me to eat smarter and I’m the bad guy. I’m not a bad guy! The result of me having gluten as a focus: I’m eating less starch, eating more veggies and taking in fewer calories. Sound familiar?

Apply it to marketing

The greatest marketing campaigns in history created a focal point: An opponent, harmless or not, that we can focus on as we adjust our behavior.
Why’d we go to the moon? The USSR launched Sputnik. If you don’t think JFK’s speech launched one of the most ambitious marketing campaigns in history, well, better think again.
Why did 1 in 11 American adults do the Atkins Diet? Because we all decided we need to lose weight? Noooo. Because it turns out that the enemy is carbohydrates. It was easy to focus on a single opponent. It’d make a lot more sense to just reduce fat intake and exercise more. But there’s no focus. It’s a lot easier to sell a concept if there’s a single bad guy.
This isn’t a cynical statement on my part. I’m not saying we have to create enemies to do great marketing. Great marketing, though:

  1. Looks at the change in behavior we want to create;
  2. Finds an element that can inspire people to make that change;
  3. Focuses messaging on that element.

So yeah—every marketing campaign needs a gluten.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. What about gluten free pizza, pasta and so on?
    With that question I mean that you can actually orchestrate your marketing against the rules; I mean, you can still eat you favs food (with moderation) but without the evil gluten.
    Or you could go even further and upstream and say (using the Atkins diet): wtf, carbohydrates are the body fuel, without them you won’t be so energetic like you would like to be and therefore you will need to start taking vitamins… and create an against the rules marketing campaign.

  2. I’ve been catching up on my reading and am most of the way through “Crossing The Chasm”, which really drives this point home. If you want to create a market, you have to tell prospective customers who you’re up against. If they can’t compare you to see how you’re better, then you’re just an unknown quantity floating in a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum.

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