Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who do you love?

People often ask me, I suppose because I'm 55 and possessed with a certain "gravitas," what's changed in our business.

It's hard to pinpoint, actually, but this morning in the "Times" I saw a headline about Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest chain of booksellers. And that's when the answer to "what's changed" hit me.

When I was a kid there were maybe only two Barnes & Noble stores and you had to be on your game to shop there. You couldn't appear like an ignoramus because it seemed like half the staff were studying for their PhD.s in Literature and the other half were finishing up their Master's. In other words, the staff knew their books. They cared. They read "The New York Review of Books," and knew the interstitials between authors. That is, if you liked Faulkner, you might want to try your hand at Flannery O'Connor or Walker Percy.

That's all gone now. The staff, if you can call them that, at big box retailers like a Barnes & Noble aren't required to know anything of the books they sell. They have replaced smart staff with dumb staff and then supplemented that staff with dumber computers.

In short, there's no one in Barnes & Noble who loves their job. This is not to say there are no longer people who love books. I shop at a variety of small bookstores and they're there. It's just not a prerequisite for being hired at Barnes & Noble.

I wonder if the same has happened to our industry. That you no longer have to love advertising to be employed in an ad agency.

It seems there are many more people who are apt to say "the agency model is dead," or "people hate advertising," or "advertising is just interruption," or "no one watches TV anymore," or "everything is DVR'd," or "I don't even own a TV," than there are people who love the business.

No, let's be clear. You can love something and still find fault in it. My point isn't that people who work in advertising should be rose-colored and anesthetized.

But just as the people who staff Apple stores seem to embrace the technology they sell, we in agencies should hold our product in the same esteem.


michael jacobs said...


Perceptive as ever.

The only caveat I'd add is that the caliber of service at the Apple stores has deteriorated a well, not into ignorance but into a kind of smugness that wasn't there a few years back.

THe intellectual curiosity of the las t few generations of the liberal arts education seems to , sadly,be in decline.

Perhaps that's the root cause.


jeff said...

I've found that Advertising is one of the few industries where people are embarrassed of what they do. As a result they attempt to change the perception of what they are, rather than changing what they do.

It's the reason why an author will call himself a author, but a copywriter wants to be a storyteller. Some sort of deep-seated insecurity that this is a less noble path than others. (Though it could be.)

It's amazing how hard people in advertising work to make it look like they don't work in advertising. That can't possibly be a healthy outlook.

Sean Peake said...

I blame HR—-they seem to always hire the most qualified (on paper) but least capable people