Thursday, August 22, 2013

Politics and advertising.

Like the return of the locusts, it is once again election season in New York. We are voting for a new mayor in about three weeks and every evening our actual analogue mailboxes are crammed full of actual analogue paper mail from just about each of the eight or so candidates that care about us only when they want our vote.

Similarly, when we check our home answering machine we receive message after message soliciting our support and our vote.

What's more, often times when I walk to the bus stop in the morning there's a little conclave on the corner of 79th Street festooned with red, white and blue campaign signs. And there's a beaming candidate and some aides, once again asking for my vote.

It seems to me that all these circumstances have one thing in common. Someone is asking for something from me--they want my value--without giving me (or promising me) anything in return. The candidates, in other words, seek to take take take without giving anything in return.

These days, I think, a lot of agencies act like our political candidates. Rather than presenting work that does something for the clients and brands we are ostensibly working for, we present work that propagates the agency's agenda--work that shows how "hip" we are, how technologically "savvy," or how "smart."

You see this trend most overtly in awards shows when work that's never run or is in (permanent) "beta" garners gold, silver and bronze. Most often, I'll be blunt, this work is esoteric at best.

If it's print or TV, the message is often baroque or inscrutable and demands the amount of attention you might devote to observing Picasso's "Guernica." Not the split second normal people devote to ads.

If it's "digital," this work often demands a level of engagement that surpasses what most people spend with their significant others. i.e. take a photo, upload it, answer 37 questions and you'll get a read out of your favorite ice cream flavor.

In other words, we are propagating work that makes huge demands on viewers but gives little back to them. Work that pushes our agenda to the exclusion of the needs of the audience.

This tact is even more heinous than when clients do it. Because, mostly, we're supposed to know better.

Our work, let's make this simple, is supposed to help people.

It's supposed to organize, clarify, inform, amuse, reward.

We forget, all of us, that our audience is there to serve.

Not to use.

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