Wednesday, September 16, 2009

David Halberstam on Advertising.

General Maxwell Taylor was also the head of a holding company: The US Military.

For the last couple of weeks I have been blazing my way through David Halberstam's epic history, "The Best and the Brightest." Halberstam is a brilliant historian because his histories transcend the period about which he is reporting. They give insight both to the period he is covering and the universal truths of man. I could compare his portraits of the players in the Kennedy administration to Plutarch's Lives--that there is a macro element in his writing that can help us handle our current world.

One thing Halberstam makes abundantly clear in this book as America is led inexorably deeper into the morass of Vietnam, is that at some point the original intention of a mission disappears and the bureaucracy instead focuses on its own well-being. Somewhere around 1964 Vietnam became less about helping Vietnamese, or saving French colonial Vietnam, or repelling Ho, and more about our military and our government not losing face.

I think agencies and the campaigns we create also follow this pattern. We argue about the nuances of an execution, we argue about its brand-i-ness and forget about what the client needs done or what the customer needs to hear. This is exactly why 99% of all advertising is about the perpetuation of the agency and client marketing departments and has very little to do with actually working in the marketplace.

This is a bit wooly, I know. I'll try to find non-incriminating examples of this over the next few days. But in the meantime, I'll leave you with this quotation by Averill Harriman talking about General Maxwell Taylor. It makes me think of our business.

"He is a very handsome man, and a very impressive one, and he is always wrong."

Happy Birthday, Craig.

1 comment:

Teenie said...

And nowhere does your agency theory shine brighter than at creative awards.