When I think about the modern world and the modern advertising agency--at least through the vision of my old and drooping eyes, they both seem to me to be missing so much.
Of course I grew up in the thrall of Enlightenment thinking, under the prevailing beliefs of the so-called Age of Reason. But today, the notion that science and facts matter--and that religious dogma and superstition are mere vestiges of earlier and darker ages--have been undone.
There are hundreds of examples of this subversion every day. A recurrence of polio--a disease mankind had essentially eradicated. The spread of creationism and book-bannings through much of America. The retrograde thinking about a woman's (and therefore a man's) reproductive rights. Most nasty, an over belief, disbelief or a manipulation of data so you can "prove" whatever you want.
Those examples, in real life and advertising are too numerous to mention.
The same sort of un-empiricism runs like monkey-pox through advertising agencies today. With each new technology or so-called platform, we're told (once again) that the very wiring of humankind's brains will be over-ridden and a new way of thinking, responding, sharing and learning will crash onto the scene.
I remember once while working at the self-proclaimed "Agency for the Digital Age," a creative director preaching what was most important for the brand we were working on was to get Facebook likes. I remember while working at Ogilvy a media person telling me that an online video needed to be branded from the first frame.
OK. I answered in both cases. I'm happy to go along with your direction. Just show me one case that proves that your way is the right way. In both those instances, I was castigated for being nasty to people. All I did was ask for evidence to back up an assertion.
There are no readers of history anymore, or even people who have read evolutionary anthropologists like Desmond Morris who know anything of the neuro development of our species over the last, say, 4.7 million years. Brain wiring doesn't just happen. It takes thousands or millions of years. Breaking that wiring doesn't happen because your "click now" button wants it to.
Slowly, I come to my point.
As Newton's Third Law of Physics avers that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," I am herewith proposing Tannenbaum's First Law of Agency Life: That is, "for every absence there is an equal an opposite presence."
What do I mean by that?
Let's take a look at the most public of the Human Truths violators, WPP. (They publicly admit in their Annual Reports to have 400-percent fewer people over 40 years of age than demographics would warrant.) Roughly 30-percent of the US's population is over 50. Only eight percent of WPP employees are.
That hardly seems fair, honest, measured or equitable.
If you make absent those with thirty-years' of experience in an agency, those who have shaped, resuscitated or built giant brands and helped created billions of dollar of brand (and agency) value, what fills the void is its equal and opposite state: inexperience, smaller, more tactical thinking, the commodification of communications and offerings in general.
The absence of one thing is the presence of an alternative. Since nature (and my cleaning woman) abhor a vacuum. If you decide the absence of experience is ok, you have instead the presence of inexperience.
Caustically put, an absence can have more presence than what is present.
If you make absent those who believe--because they've seen it-- in the value of the advertisers' art, you make present those who don't see it. Who see pricing and advertising as a race to a dank bottom.
If you make absent those who believe in the value of what we alone can do, you make present those who deny or obviate our worth.
If you make absent those who know how to make a judgment based on experience and gut, you make present those who are slavish to research and analytic manipulation.
If you make absent insouciance and humor, the presence of the grim and serious will prevail. If you make absent respect for the time and the brain of your customer, you make present loud, shrill, trite and asinine communications.
My Newtonianism can go on and on.
My point is simple.
An absence can have more presence than presence.
If you're running a baseball team, the absence of a homerun hitter can have more presence than the presence of three guys who bat .227. What's missing swings a bigger bat than what's there. If you're running an agency, the absence of people who can get to a platform idea that can be rallied around can have more presence than a coterie of people deriving a digital strategy.
The absence of wisdom, of experience, of know-how, of tradition, of maturity, of neurological-understanding is what's too present today. Their absence has led to the presence of jargon, know-it-all-ism, data-didacticism, low-margins and anti-egalitarian business practices.
An absence can have more presence than presence.
I repeat myself.
I do that sometimes.