There’s a lot that troubles me about the world today and by application our industry. I’ll admit, this is likely to be a little heavy (especially for a Friday) and maybe even a little inchoate (as people who use words like inchoate like to say.)
Usually, when I am confused or troubled about something, I go back to something foundational. I try to remind myself how things worked when things were working. So, if I’m thinking about the dire state of our dying democracy I might go to Lincoln’s words: “That a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”
I’ll think of that belief and look at today’s politics and ask myself do we any longer have such a government? Or even belief in such aspirations?
In advertising, where I feel we have also lost our way, I similarly go back to the foundational. I’ll remind myself of Carl Ally’s agency mission statement, “We must impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.” And because I believe that has always been the aim of communication, I’ll ask myself if that is what we are today doing.
I might listen to Dave Trott. Dave understands communications at a Piaget/Chomsky level but he makes communications easier for me to understand than either of those academics.
If you love advertising, you'll be happy you spent 45 minutes watching Dave Trott in this film.
The great Volkswagen ads of the ‘60s also center me. They remind me how communications work.
Now, I can already hear criticisms on any of these examples or even the idea of going back to the basics.
I can hear someone say, ‘Lincoln makes no sense, today. That of, by, for shit was almost 160 years ago.”
Or, in reference to Carl Ally’s mission statement, ‘no one wants to be imparted to. People don’t want to be told information. They want to form their own opinions.’ As for my VW example, ‘that’s so dated and old-fashioned. That would never work today.’
I suppose that kind of thinking is what really gets upsets me. Because I don’t believe that people, and how we communicate, have changed. No. People are still people. Or as Dooley Wilson sang in Casablanca:
"Sing it, Sam."
However it seems today 99% of the ads I see—no matter the channel—are different solely for the sake of being different. They’re not different to have more impact. Or different to communicate better. Or different to persuade more.
They’re different because someone needs to get an award or an ego-stroked. We all talk about authenticity, empathy, simplicity. We all talk about listening. But we rarely embrace those qualities.
In fact, most ads to me seem like they’re shouting at me. Ask anyone who knows me, I hate being shouted at. Especially by people I don’t even know.
OK. I said inchoate. And maybe you’ve looked that up by now.
But I read the other day that the New York Times now has 4.5 million paid subscribers. To my infantile mind that means people read. More, people want to read. They want information. They want to learn. They want knowledge.
So when I see today’s advertising print, or what’s considered good print, I get pissed. Because nine times out of ten, there’s no there there.
Then I come across things like this from the Times, and I say 'why can't we in advertising do this?' Do we suck? Are we lazy? Or stuck in stupid ways?' Why can't we be more engaging, more confident, more involving, useful and of value to consumers?
It’s Friday. And I’m letting you off easy.