Thursday, August 22, 2019

Plotzing the Plot.

On Tuesday, I read three things from three different places that all led me to the same conclusion:

The advertising industry is really only concerned with the advertising industry. Our interest in reaching consumers, in helping people, in actual client business, in persuasion is nil.

We talk to ourselves. Not to people.

First, and most seriously, was a small item in an online publication called “Ad Pulp” which featured Ogilvy Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland. You can read the article and watch a 4:39-minute video by clicking here.

I met Sutherland back in the 90s during my first stint at Ogilvy—back when I was a much bigger deal than I am today. He and I are connected on various forms of social media but unfortunately we never ever chat. However, when it comes to our view of the ad industry, we seem to be fairly well-aligned.

Sutherland says, 
I think that the whole advertising industry has totally lost the plot. It has become obsessed with that part of advertising which is a media targeting and optimization process. The creative agencies are essentially guilty of a kind of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to the media agencies where they think it’s all about optimization of something. I would argue something completely contrary, which is that efficiency and effectiveness in much marketing activity may be inversely correlated…The part of advertising that is wasted is the part that works.”

Ad Pulp (surprising in today’s trade journals) actually did a little research and offered this earlier quotation by Sutherland. 
“Deep down in their hearts, people in business know perfectly well that advertising creativity works. It’s simply that they do not feel comfortable with the fact that it does…. They would rather pretend that their success is attributable to efficiencies, economies of scale, cost-cutting or any [other] MBA guff…”

A co-worker sent me a note about a second instance of agency navel-gazing.

He wrote, “Brands tweeting to each other. It sounds like a bunch of teenagers are writing this crap. Worst of all, it makes the news.”

America’s 4th  or 8th worst newspaper, "USA Today, wrote this ostensible headline: “Who has the best chicken sandwich?Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and Wendy's are clucking on social media”.

What follows if you, god forbid, go to the link is sophomoric bickering, or, forgive me, "chickering". What doesn’t follow is anything of substance. Real work that could motivate real numbers of people. 

Even one of the industry's most-pusillanimous trade magazine "Adweek," got into the act. Rather than cover substantive issues like sexism, racism, ageism, industry-contraction, pay-inequality, etc., they are covering chicken sandwiches talking to themselves. Gag on it here.

Agencies, what about something that might motivate masses of people to try your processed and desiccated birds? What about something like the old Wendy’s Hamburger Taste-Test. Afraid of doing something that leads with effectiveness rather than snark?

Or what about something like the Pepsi Challenge? Too timid to do the hard work of giving people information? I know, let's tweet a joke!

I know neither of those two commercials was "cool." But there was a time when advertising tried to be more than cool. It hoped to influence people.

Finally, and perhaps most vexing, is the Clio’s site honoring, what else, 60-years of Clio Awards. The site features an interactive painting with advertising notables from the last 60 years. 

To my mind the Clio’s were almost entirely discredited back in the early 90s when event attendees rushed the stage to grab every trophy they could put their hands on.

As “Ad Week” reported:

“June 13, 1991: perhaps advertising’s most surreal night. The radio and print Clio Awards were scheduled, but what ensued was less an ad-award show than a tawdry circus…The ceremony started late, was hosted largely by the caterer, featured presenters who…tried to guess the agency winners since they had no list, and was aborted when fevered, greedy ad types rushed the stage in a mad grab for Clios they hadn’t won…”
I've been in the advertising industry for almost 2/3 of my life. It's helped me raise my children, live a decent life and help a handful of clients succeed. 

I believe in advertising. 

I believe it works.

I believe it can help impart useful information to those who need it and help people make choices.

It's not science. It's not a joke (though we can tell jokes). And it shouldn't be about us.

It should help persuade consumers to make wise choices. Let's stop disparaging our own craft with bullshit.


Self-referential bullshit.

AND NOW A COMMERCIAL FOR THE RETURN OF COMMERCIALS...not epics, not manifestos, not thought-pieces, not cinematic tour-de-forces...commercials.

As an industry we have gotten some damned effete and so damned smart and so damned professionalized that we've have almost completely abnegated what it actually takes to sell anything.

Worse, we have forgotten that we're supposed to sell things. That our highest motivation should be the concomitant enrichment that comes from helping our clients' businesses thrive and grow.

My guess is (despite some insensitivities that wouldn't cut it today) that if we went back to Stan Freberg-style work, we'd have to chase business away with a stick. But just suggesting something like that is as likely to get me fired as my own naturally obstreperous personality.

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