Friday, February 17, 2023


About 39 million years ago, I was doing some work on some very powerful IBM servers. They were far more expensive and far faster than servers sold by competitors. But no one could figure out a non-cliched way of trying to explain that to viewers.

I was guilty too. Instead of thinking, we'd take a part of the brief and put it in an ad and call it a day. Most often, we'd wind up saying something like "such and such computer has dual core processors." 

The account people and the client would see that you answered the brief and all was right with the world.

Except no one--not even the marketing clients knew what dual core processors meant. There was a time, when cars from talked about fuel-injection, or rack-and-pinion steering, or torsion-bar suspension. No one except a few gear heads here and there had any idea of what any of this meant.

Worse, because no one could explain any of these features, what started out as a differentiating point became a generic point. If you sell a $12 bottle of wine you can call it dry, just like you can if you sell a $400 bottle of wine. Sooner or later it all becomes meaningless.

Like say, white sandy beaches and cerulean water describing a tropical island. Or award-winning describing an agency. 

The purpose of writing is to impart meaning.

But so much of what we write has lost its meaning. Mostly because we don't work to define our terms.

When I was working on this particular server, I started trying to get at what made them different. I did some research because I didn't want to resort to saying 'faster and more powerful.' Because virtually everything, by some measure, is faster and more powerful.

Because I can draw as well as a gifted fourth-grader, I drew some diagrams explaining some differences I could understand. I can't find those sketches, but I found some comps an art director did based on my scribbles.

Not too many minutes ago, I read a statement attributed to John Maynard Keynes when he wrote about the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. This was supposed to be a time of international healing and reconciliation, when the world, after the carnage of World War I, gets its shit together. Keynes wrote, “The earth heaves and no one … is aware of the rumblings.”

Our job in advertising--no matter what your role in advertising, marketing, agency, in-house, or at the client--is to make people aware of the rumblings.

Too many people in advertising, marketing, agency, in-house, or at the client seem to be afraid of making themselves and their brands heard.

They'd rather do what everyone else does. That way they'll blend in. 

It's just like being in seventh-grade. If you sit in the back and keep your head down, you won't get called on. No one needs to know you didn't do your home work. 

I was with a client about 30 years ago. It was a Christmas party, and he had had one-too-many about four drinks ago. I'd describe him middle-manager well-past middle age. He confessed to me as I shared a cab with him to the Upper East Side. I was afraid without an escort he'd fall asleep in the upper East River.

"George," he said to me, "at this point, my philosophy is simple. Fly low. Fly slow. Try not to crash." 

Too many follow that creed.

My slogan is different.

Let's get ready to rumble.

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