Tuesday, November 2, 2021


With what seems like 99 percent of the advertising news last week being about the Metaverse--and with Zuckerberg, with seeming success, knocking his dangerously fascist platform off the front pages--I got to thinking about Vietnam.

I was too young to fight in Vietnam. I turned 18 in 1976, and America lost the war in 1975. But unlike today when the military-government-industrial complex is able to keep wars out of the news (this is largely because the draft was ended and no one you know goes to fight) even as young kids, we lived Vietnam.

When I was just eleven, I was on a kids' summer baseball team. Our coach was a giant of a man named Nelson Chase. One afternoon, we saw Nelson, muscles and all, crying like a sick dog. He had gotten a telegram that his best friend was killed in Vietnam. 

The primary way, however, I learned about Vietnam was through the news my mother would listen to as she was burning dinner. Each evening, the radio announcers would recount the North's dead, the Cong dead, the South's dead. And the American dead. The proportions seemed off to me, 20:10:5:.05, even when I was just a little boy. How could that be?

Every few months we'd hear some sonorous pronouncement from some government official telling listeners how we were winning hearts and minds, how we were turning the tide, how this latest push would allow us to prevail. Even as young children, we became aware of the spell of lies.

It occurred to me as I come close to wrapping up my fourth decade in advertising, that my first and best advertising lessons, might have come from Vietnam. 

Those too young to have lived through that calamity have a naivete that I think separates people of my generation from those who have come later. We learned things, doubt being primary and thereby, I think, avoided many of the advertising hyperbolic maladies of our current era.

Though I'm sure no one's read this far, here's my list of things I learned back then, that I wish everyone had. It would be a healthier world, I think.

1. Don't believe hype. Vietnam was all hype. About the superiority of the American way of living. About noble purposes and the rightness of our wrongness. Over the last 20 years or so, I've lived through about 40 hype-cycles, the latest two: NFT hype and metaverse hype. They remind me of Google+ hype, conversations about brands hype, Facebook like-hype and more. 

There's also hype about ads and the efforts of brands to change the world. Most of this blather is public masturbation that all-too-often garners public acclaim. Most of these efforts, including the 400,000 to 4,000,000 agency case study videos that detail "that hockey stick thing," for about 50,000,000 brands, 92.4 percent that you've never heard of because they failed.

2. Stay away from futurists. Futurists keep their jobs because they are never held accountable when they are wrong, which is about 92.4 percent of the time. The only futurists you should listen to are those futurists who agree wire themselves with electrodes so we can painfully voltarize them when they are proven asinine. 

3. Avoid job titles that did not exist 15 years ago. I'll admit, I spend a lot of time on Linked In and probably get ten connection requests a day. What I've noticed lately is I don't understand about 92.4 percent of all jobs titles. I have no idea what a community manager does or a risk executive. Not to mention the titles that come with a soup of letters afterward. Don't take a title where people don't know what you do. No baseball player is called a "leather application specialist," or a "cylindrical cellulose wielder."

4. Things that sound too good are bad. This includes how people present their work, defend their work or talk about the results of their work or the sureness of their efforts. This includes everything that's ever touted that promises to be a panacea for all sorts of marketing and communications problems. Don't believe the great things you hear about new chieftains or new agencies or new trademarked approaches or new media approaches that magically do things with no fuss and no muss. Everything worth doing is hard.

5. Beware of unintended consequences. Newton told us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So firing everyone in your agency over 50 allegedly so that you can foment diversity might actually diminish diversity while decimating your talent level and your viability.

There are probably a few dozen more things I learned from Vietnam that can be applied to our current advertising miasma. Most prominent, don't believe people who make pronouncements about what's happening on the frontlines without ever visiting the frontlines.

But I'll stop here.

Before someone tries fragging on me.

No comments: