Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Intimations of mortality.

A friend from the business and I were chatting just a few hours ago.

Like me, he’s an ECD at a vaunted agency (that is, if there are any vaunted agencies left.)

He’s smart. Experienced. An excellent creative. And he has the awards to prove it.

He was kind enough to share some work he and some teams had just shot. I liked the work and said that the pacing of the visual gag in the spots reminded me of the pacing in Collett Dickenson Pearce’s famous “Photobooth” spot for Hamlet cigars. 

The Hamlet cigar campaign was one of the storied campaigns of the 60s, 70s and 80s. There were hundreds of commercials and print ads in the campaign and it won every major award many times over. And it ran for over 25 years.
(That's not a typo. Most campaigns today hardly last 25 weeks.)

To my mind, not know the campaign would be like a ballplayer not knowing Babe Ruth or a playwright never having read “Death of a Salesman.” Some people and some things are so foundational and seminal that though they’re old, they inform life and work today. (Switching gears a bit, it would be nice, for instance if the president of the United States had a basic understanding of the US Constitution.)

In any event, my friend didn’t know the commercial. He didn’t know the campaign. Yes, he’s probably two-decades younger than I, but still. A painter should know Rembrandt, or even the Lascoux cave-drawings. Right?

In today’s advertising industry, we not only chew up and spit out anyone over 40, we also discard their accumulated knowledge along with them. We don’t seek to learn from the past, the way a doctor would, or a scientist, or a circus performer, or a ballplayer. We don’t find commonalities. We don’t think about historical successes. We don’t consider the foundational. We throw it out.

We are more concerned, frankly, with the latest bs du jour. The pedestal-ization of analytics, data and media to the exclusion of communication. In fact, I’d bet if you walk around any big global agency today, you’ll find 83.76% of all conference rooms packed with sallow media people staring into their laptop screens. The creatives you'll find rocking slowly in their Aeron chairs and wondering why.

The great William Hogarth could have etched such a scene and made a fortune from it. “Agencies a la Mode,” he might have called it.

Over my almost 40-year career, I have considered thousands of ads, and think I’ve developed a decent understanding of the basis and basics of solid, cogent communication. These principles haven’t changed since the Torah was written, or the Iliad, or Gilgamesh.

Dave Trott coalesces the rudiments this way: 1. Impact. 2. Communication. 3. Persuasion. Or, 1. Honey. 2. Would you make me a cuppa coffee? 3. If so, I’ll do the dishes. Or, 1. Get attention. 2. Say what you want. 3. Convince.

On top of that, I’ve accumulated through the years, a compendious knowledge great ads of the past. This knowledge can often serve as a reference for current work. That is, it can help illuminate, inspire, inform.

But neither knowledge of the fundamentals of communication nor knowledge of advertising history is valued today.

In fact, it strikes me that the advertising legacy I’ll leave behind will be neither discipline nor knowledge. When they finally kick me (brutally) to the curb, all that will be left of a life in advertising is a broken desk drawer full of plastic soup spoons and crumpled napkins made from recycled paper.


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