Friday, October 19, 2018

A long night's journey into dinner.

I went out to dinner the other night with two ad-pros of similar vintage to my own. Simply put that means that at our table-for-three was well-over 100 years of advertising experience. My guess is there are whole agencies that have less agency-experience we do.

I’ve been working in the business since the early 80s. As has my friend Claudia. Bob has been working at agencies since the late 70s.

We sat at dinner, as old ad people do, and we talked about advertising, as old people do.

Mostly we talked about what’s changed—really, what’s gotten worse—about our industry.

I’ll try to put these down with some hierarchy. Starting with the biggest change, and working my way down. And none of this, mind you, is to get anyone depressed. My point isn’t to be lugubrious. My point is to look at the state of today’s affairs and maybe try to do something about it.

The advertising industry is no longer run by advertising people. It’s no longer run by copywriters, account people, planners and art-directors. It’s run by financial people—money manipulators—who often, to my naïve eyes seem more interested in shareholder value than giving value to their clients.

Television and other channels have become extortionate. The old paradigm where you got TV in a free exchange for your time was blown up around 20 years ago. Now you pay for TV (which pisses you off) then pay again by having to watch commercials. Also, the amount of time per hour dedicated to commercials has probably tripled since the rise of cable. Nobody likes being used—and viewers are being used.

We care more about making a profit than making great work. Money, not effective creative work, is the measure of all things. How cheaply, quickly and efficiently you can get things done.

We no longer understand the people we ostensibly speak to.
Because the only ads that get through focus groups are ads showing happy people, we focus on plasticine smiles and anodyne emotions. We have forgotten to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Today we blanderize the bland.

We think the way to a person’s heart is through data.
We’ve convinced ourselves that science can sell. We have elevated data above human truth.

We act as if people care.
We have convinced ourselves to believe that people will “engage,” “interact” and have “conversations.” We hardly do that with our spouses, much less aluminum foil.

We let people say “anyone can do it,” or “a good idea can come from anywhere.”
We would never utter similar statements about surgery, or even plumbing.

We have made awards, not selling, our shibboleth.
In other words, we put our psycho-social needs ahead of those of our clients.

We don’t train people. My guess is 94% of the people in our industry have never read VW’s “Think Small,” or seen “Funeral,” or “Snow Plow.” (All of those ads could run today and would be better than virtually every ad around them.)

We’ve become a low-wage industry. (See #1, above.) Instead of paying one holding company chieftain a salary of $100 million, we could grant five-thousand people $20,000 bonuses. Like the rest of the world, our industry works only for the 1/10 of 1%.

There was more to our meal than this of course. But after three or four martinis, you forget most of it.

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