Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's the story?

Years ago, I mean back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I picked up some freelance for the digital arm of a vaunted creative agency. This was in the early days of the digital revolution--to be honest, I might have gotten this work before I had ever even been online.

In any event, I was talking about it with a wise friend of mine. And he issued this proclamation (most of my wise friends are adept at issuing proclamations.) "The problem with the internet," he said "is that there's no hierarchy. All information is equal."

While today, fifteen years later, my wise friend would probably temper his statement, I still think he's not far from wrong. Information tumbles out onto you from the internet. There's no front and back. There's no real organization.

Worse, the internet, it seems to me, is affecting the way humans attempt to organize information when we're not online. Everything is a jumble. Stories are told without beginning, middle and end. Crescendos and climaxes come and go like smiles and handshakes. 75-page powerpoint decks, pitches, big meetings are put together without thought of a story-line.

It's au courant of course to say things like "our business is about story-telling." But then we rush people along so we lose the pace of the story, the time it takes to develop one properly. That's because the internet has trained us to expect 1.7 million results in .003 seconds.

Lately--well actually for about the past three years--I have been looking for a commercial written by Jim Durfee about 45 years ago. The visual action was simple. There was a spokesman with an inflated balloon with the word Avis written on it. As the spokesperson deflated the balloon in stages he refuted each of Avis' claims and asserted Hertz's superiority. Finally when the balloon was as limp as an eel on valium, the announcer said something like "I'm sorry we had to do that in public."

It was as perfect a commercial, an argument, a story as I have ever seen. It took 60 seconds to tell. And I've remembered it all these years.


Anonymous said...

Today you would have to do that Hertz commercial without words. As every advertising genius will tell you today, people respond to visuals, not words. The minute words are drummed out of the advertising industry it will truly be a wonderful, magical business and everyone will buy everything.

Graham Strong said...

No doubt you've seen this then (but just in case):,9171,840790-1,00.html


george tannenbaum said...

Yes, Graham,

I have seen this. But thanks.


Kelly said...


Yes, yes. So true! This post follows so well on your organization post.

And following on the comment I left there... The Kid just finished a big research project where the only thing she was not allowed to source to on the 'net was Wikipedia.

Makes sense, right? Just like we weren't allowed to use the World Book as a source back in (as she calls it) "the caveman days."

Only consider this: Wikipedia is pretty much the only place on the 'net where you're guaranteed to be reading something that's structured/ organized, where an attempt has been made to sort fact from opinion, and where more than one brain has definitely had a crack at it.

So if the kids aren't supposed to source to it, and therefore don't even look at it to keep themselves honest, their only chance of seeing how to do an Internet version of a good hierarchy on their topic is gone.

I'd rather they weren't allowed to use the 'net at all. Teaching The Kid to focus while in front of those 1.7 mill results is like teaching an alcoholic to focus while on a Budweiser brewery tour.

I suppose I'm raising a dinosaur but by golly, somehow I'm gonna teach her that focus in spite of the Internet.



Kelly said...

Oh my goodness, it did it again. Said it didn't post the comment then posted it twice. Sorry about the duplicate!

Graham Strong said...

George -- Just heard "Age of Persuasion" this morning, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio show about advertising, and it mentioned the whole Avis/Hertz competition. Terry O'Reilly, the presenter, said that the Avis was actually provoking Hertz because its goal was not to become #1, but to become #2. It was actually #3 at that point, behind National.

So commercials like this *did* solidify Avis as #2 -- which is what they wanted all along (and got Hertz to do the work for them...)

There is no link to listen online yet, but it seems they do appear sometime after airing (there are links to other episodes below). The discussion comes (approximately) at the 20-23 minute mark of the show.

(Episode is Season 4: Negative Advertising.)