Recently, Discovery Channel's Shark Week finished after being aired annually since 1988. What began as informative entertainment has turned into a spectacle, and nowadays, people are just as likely to read misinformation about Shark Week as they are to read about its function promoting conversation around these creatures.
A parallel phenomenon is unfolding within the cybersecurity world. As it has dominated headlines in recent months, the discussion around cybersecurity has also been watered down. Open any tech blog, webinar or publication, and there are references to the latest ransomware attack — often laced with misinformation and critical misunderstandings.
So let's have a little fun comparing Shark Week and cybersecurity marketing. Here are three ways that myths are spread by Shark Week and how they are analogous to the myths currently percolating in cybersecurity marketing.
Shark Week was produced with the intent to educate the public and help alleviate concerns about sharks. Over time, producers started leveraging eye-catching, clickbait titles such as ‘Rogue Tiger Shark' and ‘Jaws Awakens: Phred vs. Slash' to draw in viewers.
This fear tactic echoes similar language used in cybersecurity and ransomware marketing materials that warn ‘without us you will be targeted.'
The reality is that sharks are misunderstood creatures that got a bad reputation from the 1975 nightmare-fuelling drama, ‘Jaws'. The choice to frame them as vicious predators rather than celebrate their incredible biodiversity is a marketing calculation.
For cybersecurity, marketers often make a similar choice to heighten businesses' anxieties around a security breach at the expense of more transparently educating consumers about the broader nuance of the cyber-landscape.
Marketers face a challenge in which their own advertising efforts may eventually change the conditions under which they are advertising. For Shark Week, what was initially an awareness campaign for an exotic animal morphed into a media sensation, with every company trying to be part of the story. This ranged from social media ads to merchandise from every vendor and even a rival shark line-up with National Geographic's SharkFest.
Likewise, the widespread awareness of cybersecurity attacks has accelerated to a fever pitch of marketing noise that has changed how we talk within the cyber-community. Unfortunately, marketing practices have capitalised on common terms, like ‘ransomware' and ‘firewall', such that they've lost their precision within the field itself.
Bringing awareness to key issues
For years it was understood in the cyber-world that the critical issues in security were not talked about enough given their severity. Shark Week supporters similarly claim that despite the fear-based media attention, the program ultimately drives awareness for key issues like shark finning and other exploitative practices.
These points are half true. Marketing cybersecurity has undoubtedly given the overall topic more voice, and the average person likely has greater awareness of cyber-risks now than they did two years ago.
But in the same way that Shark Week at times raises awareness for shark protection, since vague and misleading facts muddy the awareness, it becomes counterproductive and often obscures the very issues marketers claim to clarify.
While marketing professionals are ultimately tasked with bringing in revenue, they should be looking for a way to do so without tarnishing the purity of the message. By resorting to fear tactics and ‘ambulance-chasing to prompt engagement, and then exploiting that engagement with over-promotion, marketers undermine their goals to raise awareness.
Humans are much more dangerous to sharks than vice versa, but you wouldn't know that from Shark Week.
Cybersecurity is more than the latest packet of media jargon, but many people don't know that either. Moving forward, it's critical that marketing professionals better understand the responsibility they have to educate the world on the seriousness of cybersecurity while avoiding clickbait scare tactics that only muddy the waters.