After a week of Cannes-hell-Culture, I'm scared.
Sure I'm sickened, too, by the mendacity. By the fakeness of the work. Sickened by the scam. Sickened by the blatant self-promotion. Sickened by the lack integrity.
But something else is going on here.
As our industry reflects culture, I think we are reflecting the United Kingdom from 170 years ago.
And that is scary. Let me explain.
(What follows will be a little heady and a little rough. Much of it has been influenced by an article I read from the Atlantic Monthly almost 25 years ago by the brilliant Peter Drucker, called "Beyond the Information Revolution." Drop me an email and I'll send you a copy. It explains a lot.)
Drucker covers a lot of ground in his piece, which is mainly about the pace and peculiarities of technology adaptation. But he touches on another element, too.
Why did the UK's economy fall so far behind the US's and Germany's, starting around 1850?
What Drucker contends is that as industrialization and modern production became more widespread, in the UK the notion of being a "business person" was considered by the elite classes to be a social inferior.
He says, "By the 1850s England was losing its predominance and beginning to be overtaken as an industrial economy, first by the United States and then by Germany. It is generally accepted that neither economics nor technology was the major reason. The main cause was social...."
"... England did not accept the technologist socially. He never became a "gentleman..."
"Nor did England develop the venture capitalist, who has the means and the mentality to finance the unexpected and unproved... England, although it invented and developed the commercial bank to finance trade, had no institution to finance industry...
So England looked down upon people who rolled up their sleeves and worked with machines. Grease under your fingernails and you would never get to be a Lord or a Lady.
I'm scared that the same sort of social sclerotic thinking is happening in advertising.
Part 1. Think of how many people in our industry when we all go around the room and introduce themselves, utter a title that has virtually no connection to actual work.
They're "Content Impresarios" or "Working at the confluence of culture and commerce." But...WHAT DO YOU DO?
We reject honorable titles like copywriter (how I introduce myself) and art director. We say ECD or something equally obtuse. It's as if we're ashamed to show the aforementioned grease beneath our fingernails. (BTW, one of the reasons I write with a proper fountain pen is that they leak. A copywriter should always have ink on her hands. Don't trust one who doesn't. They're too clean for their trade.)
Part 2. Judging by what I've seen from Cannes this week, we are embarrassed to be seen as "selling." Somehow selling is dirty, crass, declasse. No.
Today, we influence culture. We become companions. We're authentic guides on a customer journey.
We need to sell shit.
Or clients will continue to do what they're already doing. Disregarding our industry and refusing to pay for us. And why should they?
It seems most agencies are more concerned with their own brands and their own self-aggrandizement than their clients'. It's pretty simple really, if we don't take the time and the effort and do the math that shows we make money for them, they don't give money to us. How's that for a metric?
Admittedly, my eyes might be jaded. I've been around the industry my whole life and it seems that today we are more concerned about everything other than selling soap or cereal or software. How does it work? Why do I need it? What makes it different? We consider such objectives beneath the loftiness of our dying industry.
We don't act as brands' agents anymore. We're not looking out of them. We don't, in the words of David Ogilvy, sell or else.
We say we're going to make you part of culture.
And to be honest, I don't even know what that even means. Or why it's a good thing.
I'm not looking to Tide for anything other than clean laundry. Or Doritos for anything other than a snack. Or Gillette blades for anything other than a clean shave.
I don't need a brand to tell me how to be a man, or raise my children or eschew plastic bottles.
When you're on a baseball team there's always a perfectly reliable glove man who can fill in anywhere. He usually weighs south of 160 and tops out at about 5'9". He's there to spell your second baseman, or shortstop or even third-baseman. He's a utility infielder. A fill-in.
A few of these guys get too big for their spikes. They start dreaming of hitting the long ball and grabbing the big contracts.
Those are usually the guys tending bar at age 27. Their baseball careers long ended.
They forgot what they were good at. And tried to do things they shouldn't do.