Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fighting the system.

I just read "New York Times'" critic A.O. Scott's scathing review of "Thor" and there was a sentence in it that gave me pause and made me think about advertising:

"...the absolute and unbroken mediocrity of “Thor” is evidence of its success. This movie is not distinctively bad, it is axiomatically bad."

The phrase that particularly got to me is "axiomatically bad." That is, at least in my interpretation, work created by such a process and within such a system that it cannot be good.

I think it makes sense for people who work at agencies and the people who run agencies and the people who run the holding companies that own the agencies to think hard about whether or not their agency, their method of working, their client relationships, their process of testing, the onslaught of capricious and petty changes for the sake of changes and risk aversion for the sake of employment has made it axiomatic that the work you produce will be bad.

This isn't about the talent level within the agency. This isn't even about the taste and integrity of the client. It's about an octopus that has emerged that has a hand in everything and so can squeeze with all eight tentacles another piece of life out of work. The chatter that surrounds work. The imbecilic dogma of timesheets. The tyranny of testing. The pettiness of agendas. The morass of meetings. The hyperventilation of HR. And so, as Billy Pilgrim would say, it goes.

My experience and belief is that most people appreciate good work. No one looks at an Apple spot and doesn't like it. In fact you often hear things like "I want something Apple-like," or "I want something cutting edge," or "I want something emotional." But despite those "wants" no one looks at the axiomatic system we have all created and that we all live under that creates work that is axiomatically bad.


Sean Peake said...

So George... how's your day going?

Anonymous said...

It's the best of times in the best of all axiomatic worlds.

Graham Strong said...


You're right. I think there are at least three things at work here:

Editing (or approving) by committee isn't very efficient -- especially if those editors are "in competition" with each other (even if they don't admit it) or if they feel their input is vital to keeping their jobs.

Editing by committee isn't very efficient if those editors aren't writers/artists/creatives.

The system will never be fixed because, in the end, the interest isn't to produce something bold and edgy, no matter how much they say it is their goal, it's to make sure nothing ever comes back to bite you in the butt.

That's the paradox. Advertising (and other areas of "marketing" for that matter, regardless of how loosely you want to define it) is no longer about winning. It's about not losing.

Everyone consciously knows you can't get very far playing for the tie, yet somehow that still becomes the game strategy...