Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Do this or die.

My friend Bob Hoffman, the contrary Ad Contrarian has done a better job than anyone uncovering and exposing the degree to which modern marketing has become not a marketer, but rather, a surveillance state.

Even if you adjust your privacy settings all the way to 11, chances are your every blink and every keystroke is being tracked by someone somewhere. Further that data on you, from your site visits to shopping habits to filling out purportedly innocuous online quizzes is being parceled like a collateralized debt obligation and meted out and sold to hundreds of data miners, aka digital stalkers, spies and parasites.

Online surveillance, despite a sound bite here and there from our fraudulently elected plutocrats will only get worse. Worse, because it seems to me that we live in a world where things like fairness, moderation and ethical behavior are as outmoded as a crossbow. Or, maybe more accurately, moral behavior has been bent and subjugated to the power of the almighty dollar.

But what if...

What if a brave agency, client or holding company, or a collective of them banded together to create a new(old) kind of advertising?

Betraying my Judeo roots, let’s call it Goldenrulevertising. What if, and this is quaint, we treated customers as we ourselves would like to be treated?

What if we believed that the purpose of advertising was not to stalk targets, but existed instead to inform, entertain and persuade? What if we believed—and acted accordingly—in the nobility of our trade. That we don’t chase people into buying our wares but help them, instead, make informed decisions?

What if we said we will cookie no more?

Track no more?

Retarget no more?

What if we used our clout with networks and banded together and said that 25 commercial minutes per hour is unfair to people. That that video bludgeoning is not fomenting sales, but is, instead, driving customers away.

What if, pursuant to yesterday’s post, we reminded ourselves (gendered language notwithstanding) that the consumer isn’t a moron (or a vassal) but is our spouse.

Yesterday in this space, I mentioned the great copywriter from the salad days of DDB, Bob Levenson. Almost 50 years ago, he wrote the ad below. It was art-directed by my old boss, Len Sirowitz, with harrowing limbic intensity.

What if someone, somewhere, or a group of us, re-created it, for today. Better than an ad—what if we started treating others how we wish to be treated.

Do this or die.

Is this ad some kind of a trick?

No. But it could have been.

And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business.
We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people. Or so we think.
But we're wrong. We can't fool 
any of the people any of the time.
There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one.
We are a nation of smart people.
And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people.

Instead we talk to each other.

We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message.

A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same.

And above all, the messages we put on those pages on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.

Now. The other side of the coin.

Telling the truth about a product demands a product that's worth telling the truth about.

Sadly, so many products aren't.

So many products don't do anything better. Or anything different. So many don't work quite right. Or don't last. Or simply don't matter.

If we play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster.

No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits.

That's the lesson to remember.

Unless we do, we die.

Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel.

That day we die.

We'll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises.

Not with a bang. Not with a whimper.

But by our own skilled hands.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Dear Charlie.

Yesterday, I wrote a post--a popular post at that--about a memo a CEO sent out announcing the departure of a CCO.

The memo itself was one of the most strained and convoluted bits of writing I've seen in a long time. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it was an insult to the reader in that it assumed that the reader was too stupid, too lazy or too disinterested to de-code the meaning of the note.

David Ogilvy said many years ago, "The customer isn't a moron. She's your wife." Putting aside the gendered aspect of Ogilvy's epigram, consider what it means. It's pretty simple. Treat your audience with respect. (For starters, don't call them a "target." Since no one wants to be one. And also, don't place them in buckets, which is both painful and ugly.)

Bob Levenson, 1929-2013, was widely considered the best copywriter in the world. According to Dave Trott--who knows a thing or two about writing--Bill Bernbach made Levenson Head of Copy at DDB because he was that great agency's greatest writer. David Abbott said Bob Levenson taught him how to write. 

Dominick Inseng, who wrote a great book on DDB and Volkswagen called "Ugly is Only Skin Deep," reported on Levenson's style this way:

"When he was asked how he wrote copy for all those Volkswagen ads, Levenson said, 'I always started by writing Dear Charlie, like writing to a friend. And then I would say what I had to say, and at the end I would cross out Dear Charlie, and I was all right.'"

If more people, including the CEO at JWT who wrote the memo I deconstructed yesterday, remembered that we are humans talking to other humans--one on one--we would improve the quality, and I'd bet, the effectiveness of our communications.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Language as she is spoke.

I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more, when one of my confederates, the Greek, cleared his thoat with the noise a gasoline engine's backfire.
From “The Continental Op” by Dashiell Hammett

Since I first read “The Continental Op” and everything else I could get my hands on by Dashiell Hammett, I’ve made a habit of counting the lies that can be found in words. In fact, politically speaking, I’ve advanced from Hammett to Viktor Klemperer, devouring his dense philology in “The Lingua Tertii Imperium,” The Language of the Third Reich. (If you want to learn more about Klemperer, and you really should, and you have a couple hours to spare, watch “Language Does Not Lie,” a documentary on his work. 

I bring all this up because on Friday I read an email from Tamara Ingram, CEO of JWT on the exiting of Matt Eastwood as CCO.

I don’t have any axe to grind with any of the parties involved. I just saw Ingram’s note so laden with, let’s say, challenging language that I couldn’t help but gagging just a bit.

As a public service to my legion of readers, I’ve taken the email and counted the lies, putting them in red below.

I’m writing to share the news [most people knew his days were numbered. This was hardly news]that Matt Eastwood, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, has exited J. Walter Thompson to pursue a new adventure [hang-gliding is an adventure. Unemployment, even when you’re well-off is not]. We thank him [for not suing us] for his contributions and wish him continued success [if he was having success, why did we fire him?] in his future endeavors.
We are reimagining the future of the agency [we’re hoping to stay in business]. This is a structural decision [we’ve lightened the payroll considerably] that will allow us to be more agile, [using this word makes us sound millennial] leverage our collective global bench strength [we have a lot of people sitting around under-utilized] and encourage the burgeoning diverse [we have two African-Americans on staff] ‘maker culture’ [another hat-tip to millennials] growing [sounds better than shrinking] within J. Walter Thompson. As such, we have no plans to replace the role. [We’re out of money.]
Creativity remains at the very core of our business, [pits are at the core of an apple] but today it is an even more collaborative process [everybody gets a vote, we do creative by committee]. It is borderless [we farm-out digital to China]. It is broadly focused [we try to appeal to everyone]. We are increasingly relying on the people who are closest to making and creating the work [Matt was a figure-head]. And, we are re-imagining the future of how this shift will be reflected within our organization and our leadership structure. [This isn’t the last big-name departure.]
The Worldwide Creative Council will evolve to better reflect the needs of the agency [Our useless bunch of figure-heads better do something or heads will roll]. It will continue to be a pivotal part of our organization internally [no one knows who they are or how they actually bill their time], and set standards and practices for how we improve the quality of our work.[Let’s not improve our work, just its quality.] And, there will be a fluid roster of talented individuals with myriad skill sets. [A revolving door of technocrats is coming.]
Additional strategic changes will include the use of technology to evaluate creative concepts at a much earlier stage [We will use more online polling to evaluate creative work]. This will allow us to be iterative in real time [get ready to stay late. We’re doing 10 alts on each ad] and to ensure we are evolving our work to be stronger, more innovative and have a greater impact on our clients’ business [we’ll probably include coupons.]
I am committed to protecting, supporting and developing the creative community and culture within JWT [protection, support and development through the lens of firing]. I am looking forward to sharing more specific information soon [what the fuck do I do now]. For now, it’s business as usual and we will keep the trains running [let’s hold on and hope the “train” doesn’t pull a Jersey-transit] as we head into Cannes [You can find me drinking Rose on a yacht before returning to my $5000/night suite.]