Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts from inside the MRI machine.

I had an MRI this morning, a look inside my shoulder to see if the previous x-ray look inside my shoulder was accurate.

As I was entombed in the machine, in the too-hot room, amid the noise, amid nothing to do for 20 minutes but try not to get claustrophobic (fear of Santa Claus) I began thinking about how badly things have turned. How we have become such a litigious, cautious society that we test things, then we test the tests.

If I wrecked my shoulder when I was a kid, I would have been told to ice it, then probably do some light lifting and stretching until I strengthened it. That's not the way we do things today. We over-examine everything. From shoulders to pixels.

Some weeks or months ago when the copywriter Julian Koenig died (I wrote about it here) I discovered that his eponymous agency Papert Koenig Lois published a hard-bound book at the end of each year that featured that year's work. They were titled, laconically, "Papert Koenig Lois: The First Year" and "Papert Koenig Lois: The Second Year."

I ordered, eagerly, the books and have them now. Two things or three strike me.

First, for a relatively small, upstart agency, they produced a boat load of work each year.

Second, they probably didn't half produce double the work and test their way into running what ran. If what they produced didn't work, they yanked it and produced something else. Until what they produced did work.

Third, most of the work, with stylistic updating could run and could be effective today.

Years ago I blurted a line that I think is germane today. "We keep idiot-proofing our work. They keep making better idiots." By that I mean if your "remit" is to keep finding things "wrong" with an ad or a communication, you will eventually "correct that communication to death."

I think that's the case with most ads, most communication, most human intercourse.

It's all so overwrought as to be practically useless.

I started my career working at the in-house advertising agency at Bloomingdale's. And I spent five long and labor-intensive years shepherding the retail account of what at the time was New York's largest retail bank.

I pretty much wrote an ad a day.

If Bloomingdale's rug department was crowded, I wrote a good ad. If it were empty, I had to write a new one.

We are much more sophisticated today in our measurement and analytics. We can tell that our ads are performing under norms of left-handed one-legged dog lovers with Libertarian leanings. We chuck all that data into the great data Cuisinart and harrumph in meetings and talk endlessly about it over bad coffee and worse spread sheets.

It's wrong.

It isn't helpful.

But, I suppose, we can tell our mothers how smart we are.

(We'd all be a little better off if we were a little dumber.)

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