Tuesday, October 27, 2020

I no longer understand.

A sure sign of a rogue and a scoundrel is someone who devalues something because they don't understand it. Like the outfielder who doesn't understand the firing line of the hot corner. Or the every day player who doesn't understand the pressure of the mound. 

There was a time in the advertising business when young people began in the mail-room or in traffic. They saw, that way, what every department did. 

If they were smart, they read the self-hatred of the account person who had to sop a client's fears. The copywriter who feared the disappearance of her skill just as a headline was due. The art director who compared himself to Krone, though they'd never met and never would.

But empathy is gone in our world. And more people than not devalue the works and jobs and professions of others. 

When I worked for a Bain/Harvard Business School adjunct, a consultancy that pretended they were an agency, and hoped by having me strait-jacketed in a corner office it would give them agency cred, creative didn't matter. 

How could it? They couldn't understand it and certainly couldn't do it. So, they turned creative into an if-then proposition. If we do this with data, then we'll get this click-through. If we put the     cta is here, then that will happen.

One of the things I've noticed of late--it's getting worse, not better--is how estranged the statements of agency executive management are from the very notion of creativity. 

When I think of the value of creativity, I reduce it to examples rendered in just a few words: taglines.

I don't think about customer engagement. 

I don't think about "authenticity."

I don't think about data.

Or targeting buckets.


I think about the billions of dollars of wealth created by four words: The ultimate driving machine.

I think about the billions of dollars of wealth created by two words: Think different.

I think about the billions of dollars of wealth created by ten words: It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.

I think about the billions of dollars of wealth created by one word: Absolut.

These are words that both reached the consumers' hearts and clarified in their minds what a brand meant. They stood out from the field like a tall tree in reedy marsh. They got noticed.

Today, I see words like this emerging from an agency president who exists as dank in a Read-y marsh.

the "reading clarity score" of the tweet above.

I am not trying to be coy.

I am not in that industry.

I never was.

I never will be.

I don't want to be.

I have a master's degree in English literature from Columbia University. I studied Latin at the graduate level. I am unable to figure out what those words even mean. I shudder to think anyone can. Even the person who said them.

Compare that apotheosis of intelligence--ie a tweet--with this from Mr. Bernbach, probably sixty years ago, and you might, just might, get my point. (Maybe Bernbach's been canceled because he A) said man and B) makes sense.)

the "reading clarity score" of the quote above.

Here's another such "O tempore! O mores! direct from Holding Company oral-sphincter-hood.

My experience after a lifetime in this industry is that the majority of clients--large, small, sophisticated or not, cannot rightly define to consumers what it is they do or sell or why what they do or sell is different, better or worth the money. 

That basic definitional task, saying what you do, sell or why you're worth the money is about as elemental as a rain-storm. If you were to meet someone in a bar and there was mutual interest, you would attempt to convey who you are, what you do and what makes you different.

Without that everything else is academic, masturbatory, powerpointurtory or make-work to separate gullible "marketers" from their money.

It isn't working. 

Certainly not in an industry most remarkable today for its lack of experienced people and its notoriously unsustainable "razor-thin" margins.

I don't care who thinks I'm an idiot.

I don't care that the industry I used to love has deemed me persona non grata (or as they're more likely to mediocritize, persona au gratin.)

I am sticking with simple, timeless human truths.

And I am abiding by the best advice I ever got on the importance of copywriting and communication. This from Bob Levenson's obituary from January 17, 2013:

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