The burning question of, “If Aristotle were an online marketer doing PPC & SEM running Google Adwords campaigns, what strategies would he use?” is a question almost as pressing as wondering the same for Seneca. Addressing this question requires a series of articles because Aristotle wrote deeply and subtly on so many topics. Many of us wonder how it is even possible for one man to be so brilliant on topics ranging from ethics to founding a minor area of scholarly interest known as “science.” (If he hadn’t existed that would be one of the ultimate triumphs of marketing campaigns so complex it’s hard to even fathom!)

First, a primer on one of his ideas that we’ll dive into today. One of Aristotle’s ideas, formed after his survey of hundreds of Greek city-states which no longer exist (neither his study nor the city-states themselves) is that there are only three types of government:

  1. A government that is run by one person (a monarchy).
  2. A government that is run by a small group of people (aristocracy).
  3. A government that is run by the people together (democracy).

But–he added in an exciting twist–the three are really six because each of the three has a positive form and a negative form.

Here are the negative forms of government:

  1. A government that is run by one bad guy is a “tyrant” (although in our modern-speak we’d say “dictator”).
  2. A government that is run by a small group of bad guys is an “oligarchy”.
  3. A government that is run by the masses when the masses are swayed into passions of the evilest sort is what Aristotle called “ochlocracy”. Today we would call it “radical democracy” or more informally “mob rule” or perhaps (deep gulp here) just straightforward “democracy”. No comment on what kind of government we have, or we perceive we have, today!

So, with that as context: Morgan, how could Aristotle PPC on Google Adwords?

Well, Aristotle observed that the ideal government is always that of the king (monarch) but the risk is that the good-king (the monarch) could turn into a bad king (the tyrant/dictator). Yes, that is an insightful observation. And I know it’s truly the way things go because that’s precisely what happened in Game of Thrones when Robert Baratheon was succeeded by Joffrey.

Knowing this, what Aristotle would likely point out is the following: every serious campaign has all these different hands meddling in it. This PPC using this strategy, but the client wanting to use a different (and silly) strategy. And the client’s friend’s second cousin’s college roommate’s best friend who once founded a startup suggests an even sillier strategy as well. And I’m not even mentioning the Google Reps who are also calling the client to recommend the silliest strategy (“just do X, Y, and Z and oh by the way that will increase your spending by 2x”).

In other words, the reality is that most campaigns are run like an oligarchy. That is, a small group of people all meddling, and  not doing a good job. The solution, of course, is one person but he has to be a good person. Long live the King!

Aristotle (being absurdly smart) would point out a few qualifications that would go along with this.

The first qualification would be that we need checks in place to minimize the risk that the monarch devolves into a tyrant. These could take a few different forms, including:

  • Multiple observers with read-only access to the account to follow the progress closely.
  • Regular stakeholder meetings and reporting, from daily to weekly to monthly (depending on the size and importance of the campaigns). The reporting should take a standardized form, following the accepted best practices as a starting point. Think of the aristocrats as wise advisors, not as the ruling group; indeed, aristos is Greek for “best”!
  • Someone above the PPC, at the agency, who understands both PPC and the client well. This person has the power to replace the King if needed. The best title for this role would be “CEO of the Agency of Record.”

While there is no sure-fire way to ensure the good king stays good, these are a great starting point. The ultimate tool that the client has is the ability to fire the agency if needed, and in real-life sometimes that needs to happen.

The second qualification is, when the king is hired, you need to be confident that you are hiring a good king and not a bad king. And while there’s no sure-fire way to know, there are a few classic ways to reduce that risk. A great way is to find a few PPCs whom you trust to grill them. Someone unprofessional won’t know what questions to ask.

Aristotle also argues that the progression is inevitable (that’s the anacyclosis pattern that Polybius later fleshed out).

While none of this addresses the technical details of the campaign per se, this is a meta approach to the campaign. However, I would argue that the meta-organization is more important than any technical details. As they say in Silicon Valley, “team, team, team”. Finding the right person or team, structuring the right relationship with them, and managing that relationship matters more than whether you configure detail X in your campaign. And perhaps even Aristotle himself would have agreed with me.