I am not a consumer. I am a human being

New York Times: Consumers, Long the Targets, Become the Shapers of Campaigns. Sigh. You know, I thought Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger worked this out years ago, folks. Consumer = someone who consumes, or as the Cluetrain quotes, “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” If you really want to talk about people participating in your business, then you’re not talking about just a consumer any more, but a customer. Big difference. Do you take consumers seriously? How about customers?

To the point of this article: How would you advertise to a consumer? Buy, buy, buy. How about to a customer? Maybe you don’t advertise at all, maybe you just put out the information about your product and let them decide. Both are forms of marketing—maybe even valid forms of advertising—but only one is enlightened.

To be clear, I’m mostly complaining about Crest’s interactive advertising campaign, which has very little to do with enlightened customer-centric marketing. I see Crest asking me to vote on toothpaste and I think, You don’t respect me and you don’t respect my time. Calling Crest’s campaign, which sends “e-mail message[s] from Crest urging [customers] to vote every day” for their favorite toothpaste flavor, “marketing” is like calling that condescending lecture from your least-favorite aunt who forgets you’re more than five years old a “conversation.” (It also sounds like a good way to drive up Crest’s opt-out and unsubscribe numbers.)

But Staples’ interactive product design contest—encouraging customers to submit new product ideas—is respectful. Their process is much more like a true conversation. Maybe the difference is as much in the nature of the products as it is in the companies. After all, who needs another flavor of toothpaste?

Last point: I’m not sure how the Times can write an article about companies using interactive marketing and not ask the other partner in the equation, the customers, to comment. The only voices in this article are advertising companies and product marketers. You would think they would have asked at least one toothpaste user how he liked being asked to vote. Then maybe they would have found out something.

At the least, can we get the Times to stop writing articles that use the word consumer when they mean you and me?