Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chain store advertising.

The neighborhood in which I live is as off the beaten track as things get in Manhattan. It's a little too far east, too far from the subway and defiantly un-hip. That's ok by me.

Nevertheless despite its out-of-the-wayness, over the past twenty years or so a seismic change has occurred. Most of the neighborhood businesses, "The Ideal Coffee Shop," or half-a-dozen Hungarian or German restaurants like "Csarda" have been shuttered and been replaced by stores like "The Vitamin Shoppe," "Starbucks," or "GNC."

Last night I got off the subway at 7:30 and decided I needed hamburger rolls for the dinner I was putting together. The only bakery left in the neighborhood was part of the barkery-industrial-complex, a mini-chain with the unfortunate name of "Hot & Crusty."

I asked for hamburger rolls. "We don't got none." I asked for three kaiser rolls. The kid doesn't ask if I want poppy seeds or sesame seeds on them, he picks up the first three he sees and stuffs them in a bag big enough for two-and-a-half kaiser rolls and gives the bag to me to bring it to the cash register. The cashier says three dollars. I not so unreasonably ask for a bag. Rather than putting my rolls in a bag, she slides over a crumpled plastic bag with a smiley face on it. I leave disgusted.

This entire experience made me think about the advertising industry. Like the state of retail in my neighborhood and much of the world, the little guy is no longer. Independent shops where they know your name, know their product and know how to sell are all but gone. Same with agencies.

Service is surly, unresponsive and completely lacking in a cosmic sense of quid pro quo. They really couldn't give a rat's ass if you leave the store disgusted and never come back. The workers make low wages and can probably get a low-wage job elsewhere. It doesn't much matter if it's a bakery or a place that does quick oil changes. There is, from the employees, no passion for what they do.

Basically, now that we all pretty much work for one of four agencies, we are essentially working for advertising chain stores. Think about a typical chain store experience. You usually can't find help. You usually can't find what you want. When you do find help they usually suck. And when you get home with what you bought you are usually dissatisfied, often you feel like you paid too much considering.

No personality, no accountability, no loyalty, specious cost-efficiencies. This is our chain-store, holding company world.


Shanty Mathew said...

I simply loved this post.

Besides the absence of monetary incentive, there are two other reasons why I believe it's next-to-impossible to be passionate about what you do in a "chain-store" agency.

Firstly, smothering layers of hierarchy means that only the loudest, most aggressive and 'networked' individuals get noticed.

Secondly, centralised decision-making and fake 'processes' mean that caring about what one does is the surest short-cut to frustration.

Something 'creative' is by definition, unexpected. You can't manufacture it with a process. And 'passion' is full-blooded. It is a desire to act! You can only kill it with a brief that spews insipid and meaningless 'jargon'.

Anonymous said...

Not so in London; Adam & Eve, isobel, Dye Holloway Murray, mother, Weapon 7, Brothers & Sisters, iris, Karmarama...there are dozens of independent agencies, and more are starting all the time.

george tannenbaum said...

Anonymous, I hope more independents begin opening here in the US as well.

It is a daunting task to try to make it as an independent, with so many people at so many companies wanting the tried and true even if it is dull and insipid.