Friday, April 9, 2021

Voices. Including your own.

Now that I run my own agency, GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, some of my rougher edges are beginning, once again, to re-emerge. I suppose I'm a bit like a torn-down bit of forest that is returning, slowly, to woodlands. 

My edges had been worn down by forty-years of disbelieving stares, if not rebuke. That's what happens when you work at  big, tight-assed places that act as if personality, individuality and, heaven forfend, a sense of humor were tantamount to wearing Hester Prynne's Scarlet "A."

That's a round-about way, I suppose, of saying fifteen months into running my own thing, I'm beginning to act like a human again. Like a person, not a protoplasmic punch-card who is afraid of folding, spindling and mutilating the sensitivities of a beige conferenced-room set of people who last laughed when Mork met Mindy.

Of late in this space, I've been on a Crusade of sorts. No, I'm not killing Saracens and Jews. Not that kind of Crusade. But I am trying to kill an industry and its output that no longer portrays with any accuracy whatsoever the lives, cares, woes and joys of the people we are attempting to reach.

People, in fact, is an all-but-obsolete term in American ad agencies today. We prefer to call them "targets," or "buckets," or "personas," or "archetypes," or "consumers." As the Inuit have 32 words for snow--we have 32 words that show how we, as an industry, are clinically-removed from real life.

The spate of "Dancemercials™" infesting our airwaves is evidence of this. Or people spinning in fields. Or gushing over fat-injected fast-food. Or new young models gushing over Kia mini-vans with Apple-play technology as if they were the cure for acne. Or the transformative splendor of their phone network, now capable of dropping three-calls-in-four in 5G. 

But, back to me.

At my age and place in life, I am becoming a bit of an Atilla the Hun, Vlad the Impaler or Genghis Khan. No, I'm not raping captives and slaughtering babies and burning villages. But I am actively seeking out and attempting to destroy our industry's wholesale destruction of the English-language.

First, let me tell you--clients, people working with me, and all others--I will never use the word experience. I will not talk about a "shopping experience." A "bathroom experience." A "dining experience." No. I won't do it.

I'm 63 years old. I've gone shopping, relieved myself and eaten in a number of restaurants, a few of which have had table-cloths. But never have I had, I'm sorry, an experience. It's a dumb, antiseptic and meaningless word that removes people from life itself.

I won't use the word monetize.

I'll say, how do you make money?

I won't use the word content or call myself a content-creator, though people call me one thanks to my prolific blogging. I also won't say I'm a film-maker when I work on a commercial. I'm sorry, I write ads--and these occasional pieces here--and that's enough for me. I am not A.E. Housman or W. H. Auden or F.W. Murnau.  

I refuse to use the words robust, agile, verbal-branding or K-shaped recovery. 

No, I'm an asshole, remember.

But I'm not in the business of writing things that 99% of all people don't understand but think they should because they hear them 2200 times a day, so they're afraid to speak up. I'm not writing things that will cow people. That's just not nice.

I will also not use an exclamation point unless I see a bear in the woods and I have to scream at my wife to get out of the way. In that case, "get out of the way!" is acceptable. Though I might be apt to say, "get out of the way?" If I were in certain moods.

My point today isn't really very well-thought-out or even well-formed. But here it goes, as simply as I can write it.

We like things that express personality.

Movies, music, tv, art, jokes, interior design, cooking, clothing. 

Yet when it comes to our business--when it comes to the work we make and use to sell things for giant corporations, we're afraid to show anything that smacks of human. 

It's as if the corporate state were the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk and we're all hearing this in our heads and afraid of being caught speaking, acting, fucking-up and laughing like people.

I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

Grind away, if you like. But like I said, I'm on my own now. And my company is called GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company because clients get me. A real human. For better or worse.

And I'm sticking with that until they come and take me away.

By the way, about twenty years ago, I rose to my highest height in the ad industry. I was hired to lead a dull consultancy into the neighborhood of creativity. 

The creative people in the agency had been beaten down by an infrastructure of jargon, science and "best practices." I would sit in creative presentation after creative presentation and not see anything that resembled a spark.

I've worked in enough agencies and played on enough ball teams to know that the talent difference between the best and the worst is really not that great. The difference comes from the constraints--or lack of constraints--within the organization. Creative places are messy--they encourage mayhem, a bit of disorder. Insouciance, if you will.

I wrote a piece back then to the creative department. 

It was called hearing voices.

It went something like this.

Hearing voices.

You hear voices.
You're listening for what your partner might think.
Or the person in the next cube.
Or the account person.
Or their boss.
Or their boss.
Or their boss' boss.
You're worried about my voice.
The senior leadership team's voice.
The executive leadership team's voice.
You're hearing a lot of voices.
And you're listening to them.
Most of them tell you things like,
'don't do that.' 
'You can't say that.'
'That doesn't explain the whole story.'
'That might offend someone.'
You're worried about the clients.
The summer associate.
The associate brand manager.
The brand manager.
The senior brand manager.
The group brand manager.
The product manager.
You're worried about twelve focus-group people in Parsippany.
And twelve more in Bloomfield Heights.
And twelve more in Bala Cynwyd.
You're hearing all those voices.
Not to mention the voice of the CMO.
The CMO's husband.
And the CEO.
All those voices are rattling around in your head when you work.
They've drowned out some more important voices.
What do people think?
Really think?
What do they need?
What are we doing for them?
We've let that voice be drowned out.
And they've drowned out your voice, too.
The voice you were hired for.
The voice that says, 'I believe in this.'
Or 'this is how people speak.'
Or 'this made me laugh.'

There's a lot of clamor in our agency.
If you pay attention to it, it's like working with your head in a blender.
Take it out of the blender.
Find some quiet.
And listen.
To you.

I quit that job because I refused to listen to voices higher up the pecking order than mine. I refused to listen to consultants who listened to spreadsheets and algorithms more than humans with needs.

I didn't do much at that agency.

As my old man used to say, "you don't get anywhere pissing up a rope." 

But at least I wrote that piece.

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