Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Standing up for truth. (Haha.)

If you're as old as I am and you've worked in as many agencies as I have, you've heard more than a fair amount of bullshit. 

In fact, the last two decades, as digital burst upon a formerly staid media scene, we've heard a cascade of bullshit that would make Niagara Falls look like the urine stream of an old man with a prostate problem.

I bring up bullshit because I think the same behaviors that made Trump and Trumpism possible have galloped and are galloping through our industry. The most pernicious behavior of all is lack of accountability. Of being able to say or do something without responsibility. Of making up facts that suit your agenda and denying facts that trouble you.

Along with "experience is unnecessary," "the past is wholly bad, and "something-for-nothingism," lack of accountability and abnegating responsibility are the essence of Trumpism. They are at the root of the ad industry's demise as well.

Lies wrapped in allegations covered in falsehoods and deceptions. And then made shiny by packaging.

I started noticing this about twenty years ago. Maybe thirty. With "radio is dead." Then came "TV is dead." Then "print is dead." Then "the big idea is dead." "Advertising is dead." And more.

Also, "people want to have conversations with brands." "People hate advertising, but want to click on ads." "People are looking forward to crappy content simply because it is ubiquitous--that's why content is king."

It's not just proclaiming things that's troublesome, it's that we as an industry, we as people, don't question, don't ask for facts, don't say something simple, "how do you know?" Or even simpler, "show me."

My last few years I've done just that. 

It has not made me a lot of friends.

Someone: We have to get Facebook likes.

Me: Show me one brand that's built their success on Facebook likes. Just one.

That's usually when I'm called old, curmudgeonly and not-a-digital-native. And the worst imprecation of all in today's anodyne advertising world, "hard to work with."

Or a client, with a complicated product to explain, says something like this.

Client: No one reads anymore.

Me: How is it that JK Rowling is a billionaire?

Client: People have short attention spans today.

Me: How come everyone seems to binge-watch eight hours a night?

That's usually when I'm asked off an account.

My point here today is stupidly simple. For a society or an industry to function it needs to have a set of common facts. It's really that simple.

If you hear an assertion, ask for evidence. Whether or not you agree with it. If you make an assertion, be prepared to back it up with a piece of paper.

"Media needs to be always on."

"The consumer is in control."

"Brand platforms don't matter."

"It's a part of culture."

This will not eliminate everything spurious. As Mark Twain purportedly said, "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." Liars always figure out a way. They are good at their craft.

But we'd all be a lot better off, our nation and our industry, if we called people out on things.

Whether it's "the election was stolen," or "no one watches TV anymore."

Both might be true.

Both might be false.

But if you say it, it's your job to prove it. It's all of our jobs to call people on it.

(If you've forgotten how to deal with facts, read the copy from the ad below. I suppose some will say no one cares anymore. Or everything is parity. Or whatever. When I first read this ad 50 years ago, I said something different. I said, "I want a Volkswagen.")

BTW, I typed the copy with the word and line breaks as it was written in its original form. I wouldn't change ee cummings' typography, either. Sacred.

After we paint the car we paint the paint.

  You should see what we do to a Volks-
wagen even before we paint it.
  We bathe it in steam, we bathe it in
alkali, we bathe it in phosphate. Then we
bathe it in a neutralizing solution.
   If it got any cleaner, there wouldn't be
much left to paint.
   Then we dunk the whole thing into a
vat of slate grey primer until every square
inch of metal is covered, inside and out.  
    Only one domestic car maker does this.
And his cars sell for 3 or 4 times as much
as a Volkswagen.
    (We think the best way to make an
economy car is expensively.)
    After all that dunking, we bake it and sand
it by hand.
    Then we paint it.
    Then we bake it again, and sand it again
by hand.
    Then we paint it again.
    And bake it again.
    And sand it again by hand.
    So after 3 times, you'd think
we wouldn't bother to paint it
again and bake it again. Right? 

The copy above contains a lot of facts, no adjectives and only six words over three syllables--including the word Volkswagen twice. It talks up to the reader. Appeals to their sense of logic. And is even competitive and philosophical. 

Today, we consider writing like this something to avoid. 

Just ask Mark Read.

It harkens back even farther than the 80s.

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