Jeremy Bentham! Most widely remembered today as the Father of Utilitarianism. I remember him for a much more idiosyncratic reason: when he died, instead of burying him, they stuffed him like they used to do to hunted animals and put his body on display at his beloved University UCL. What a perfect ending for the father of Utilitarianism: truly wanting the whole world to benefit equally in everything, so why not give the whole world the equal opportunity to see you, even in death? But of course, the body-on-display suffers from the same problems as utilitarianism itself: in practice, it turns out to be kinda gross and creepy and even fails to live up to its high ideals (to get access to see the body, you need to be able to afford to fly to London).

So, this leads me to wonder: if Jeremy Bentham were alive today, what sort of PPC would he be? Would I hire him to PPC for me?

Let’s do a quick recap of his most influential idea, utilitarianism. Simply put, to use the phrase every student learns when they study his idea, it is “the greatest good for the greatest number”. How do you make a moral decision? Well, let’s just calculate which option benefits the most people, and voilà, you have your solution. While this feels like Aristotlean practicality taken to its logical end–there are a few arguments against utilitarianism. The strongest argument boils down to, “how do you actually ‘calculate’ that? And who does this ‘calculating’?”

So, with that context, what sort of PPC strategies would Bentham use?

Bentham would probably cast a wide PPC net, the sort of guy who would use a lot of “broad” keywords, as well as early in the buy cycle campaigns. He would certainly try to rope in many people. And many or most PPCs tend to focus on the end of the buying cycle because it is much easier: easier to find someone who is looking for the cheapest hotel room in Paris than trying to convince someone to even go to Paris! This would be an uncommon approach–but uncommon just because most PPCs go for the low-hanging fruit. Bentham would try to get the highest apple close to the top of the tree!

While this is his strength, this same focus is also his weakness. How do you get clients who are early in the buying cycle? The answer is easy, in theory: via funnels. You take them and put them through a process that weeds out more and more until you’re left with your buyers. And the problem with and breakdown of utilitarianism is precisely because they fail in crafting any sort of compelling funnel. They want everyone to benefit, proportionally, or equally. Utilitarians never became comfortable with giving some people substantially more benefits than other people, weeding out those worthy of fewer benefits. (Capitalism, and its cousin theory of evolution, on the other hand, are based precisely on these sorts of funnels.)

Jeremy Bentham, in other words, might do great early in the buy cycle campaigns, but he would completely fail in creating the compelling funnel to weed out the likely buyers until they make the sale. So, I wouldn’t count on him to get many sales, all in all.

So, in conclusion, I would use Bentham for PPC campaigns that don’t rely on a funnel. So, sales campaigns. But branding campaigns or certain types of political campaigns–he might do a great job on those.

There is one other side of Bentham that is worth mentioning. His treatise on oaths, utterly obscure and forgotten and never mentioned anywhere. However, I stumbled upon it years ago when I was trying to reconstruct the history of oaths since no one has written that book (and it is one book I want to write before I die)! And he was absurdly interesting on oaths, but, alas, that’s a story for another day! Bentham’s definition of “utility” is very interesting. In modern economics, we often use “making money” or profit as a shorthand for “utility” but it’s much more subtle than that, and something closer to “happiness”. And he thought long and hard and came to insightful conclusions about what happiness and utility are. One great example is his famous 7 components of pleasure: intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, productiveness, purity, and extent. (Side-note: funny that there are 7, “eh?”). He broke these down and then tried to come up with ways to measure or estimate each of these.

And guess what? This is the exact sort of process that makes for a great digital marketer. In short: understanding that you need to appeal to deep emotions, breaking down the components of those emotions, and then using objective yardsticks to track and measure those. This intellectual rigor combined with the analytic instinct is precisely what I do want in my PPC.

So, this would make me tweak my conclusion a bit. Yes, he’d be a great PPC but for branding and display campaigns.