Friday, October 4, 2019

Reality in Advertising. A bit of Shakespeare and some fleshpots.

No one knows Rosser Reeves anymore, but our work would be better if we did.

One of the most astonishing hallmarks of our present era—both in what used to be America and what used to be the advertising industry—is how huge percentages of our cohorts operate as if they are almost completely removed from reality.

Long ago and far away I had set out and moved pretty far down the path of becoming a scholar in English literature. My epigram around my ivied English department was I was on my way to becoming a “distinguished” professor.

As the Yiddish proverb goes, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.” Man plans and god laughs. Back in early 80s New York, god (and my landlord) laughed. My money ran out. So I left grad school and pursued a more remunerative career path. I gave up the hallowed halls of Academe for the teeming fleshpots of Madison Avenue.

Man, I could use a good fleshpot.

I'm so old, when I was in college "The First Folio" was just called "The Folio".

Anyway, I remember back to 1979 and studying Macbeth—a play I had first read some years earlier as a 10th grader.

ACT I  SCENE I A desert place. 
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]

First Witch:                When shall we three meet again
             In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch:          When the hurlyburly's done,
                                  When the battle's lost and won.
                                 Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Third Witch:              That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch:                Where the place?

Second Witch:           Upon the heath.

Third Witch:               There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch:                I come, graymalkin!

Second Witch:          Paddock calls.:

Third Witch:              Anon!

ALL:                          Fair is foul, and foul is fair:


In Shakespeare’s England, and today, there is a basic human need for order in the universe. In fact, when the universe gets out of order, bad shit happens. Picture driving the wrong way down a one-way street. That kind of disorder.

Theater-goers knew that in Shakespeare’s England.

So when “When the battle's lost and won…” things are mis-aligned. Because a battle can’t be both lost and won. More pointedly, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair:” means, in the parlance of our era, things are all fucked up.

Let’s bring those words, Fair is foul, and foul is fair: forward to our industry.

Let’s take a look at all the things we do that people (our readers and viewers) hate. But though people hate them, we do them because “they’re good for business.”

Minutes ago I read an article that said 87% of participants in a survey said they would “opt out of having their personal information sold to third parties.” Naturally, to the people making money stealing your privacy, that survey doesn’t matter. They choose to ignore the reality that people want to be left-alone. 

Adweek, the nearly irrelevant trade journal reported that “Bob Perkins, COO of BritePool, said, ‘We saw the number of people that said ‘do not sell my personal information’ decline by 30%, so when you give people two options [between ‘selling’ and ‘rewarding’] we see this big reduction.’”

Sure, Bob. I love when people (like you and Google and Facebook, etc) get rich off my personal data. Thank you for tracking my every click and eyeball movement. 

You know what else I like, according to the advertising industry? I like seeing 20 or so minutes of commercials every hour—even though I have to now pay an exorbitant fee to watch TV. (My generation, which has most of the money in this country, remembers when you paid for TV by watching about 12 minutes of commercials per hour.)

I also like TV commercials that shout at me. With their volume turned up. And commercials that promise me a price for a product or service that is so full of caveats literally hundreds of words of legal copy fill the screen at a size I can’t read and a pace that’s too fast for the speediest speed-reader.

And I like political ads that smear and sully by way of innuendo and half truths. I especially like ads that look like they were produced by amateurs for about what it cost to buy a balsa wood airplane, two comic books and some Bazooka chewing gum in 1967. Yep. I like things that look like shit…who doesn’t?

Way back in the Pleistocene Era, some guy you might have heard of, David Ogilvy said, “The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.” Let’s look past the gendered aspect of that. The consumer is not a moron. 

Yet in virtually everything we do as an industry, we treat our viewers as EAOs. Eminently Abusable Objects. We inundate them. We insult them. We steal from them. We hit them over the head with our blather. We shout at them. We might say,
The consumer is not a moron but treat them like they are anyway.

Not only do we expect them to like us for such treatment. We convince ourselves that they do.

BTW. I don’t go to awards shows, symposia, conferences, trade shows or virtually any other place where people in our industry gather. But I’d propose this to every industry leader who’s actually read this far. I bet it would improve the health of the brands we ostensibly work for.

As an Agency, a Holding Company, an Industry or a Client, let’s introduce “Advertising’s Golden Rule.”

It’s pretty simple.

Before we make something, let’s ask ourselves: “Would I like to be talked to like that?”

Is our advertising treating people as we like to be treated?

The reality is, people hate 99% of what we make and how we follow them around and profit from our near constant surveillance. 

The reality is, we should be kinder, more respectful, give more space and just leave the people alone now and again.

But where's the Mammon in that?
Loving money more than our soul.

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