Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Right. And wrong.

I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal or not, but legend has it that the Father, Mother, Progenitor, God, Goddess and Guiding Light of the Advertising Industry, Bill Bernbach, kept a small business-sized card in his wallet.

There were three words printed on it.

“Maybe he’s right.”

Put aside the gendered nature of those words, and think about them for a while. Or for as long as it takes you to get to the end of this post.

"Maybe he’s right."

OK. Maybe he or she, they or them are right. If we must, Maybe they’re right.

Think about those words in any gendered form you want. But think about them.

Our world today suffers from a glut of confidence. It seems today everyone, regardless of their accomplishments or track record or anything else, has the temerity to be confident and absolute.

Donald Trump, for instance, is a six-time bankrupt pretending he knows more about the economy than the Fed.

But in our business, and most others, there are no absolutes. 

No one knows what works and why.

The best coaching advice I ever heard came from my manager, Hector Quesadilla, back so many years ago when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo: "Hit a double."

We’re all just taking our gut, our experience, our intelligence, our listening skills, the wisdom of our colleagues and using all that to make the best, most effective work we can.

But none of us know to hit that double every time.

I have a set of biases that lead me to believe a certain kind of work works. First, it must be attention getting. Because if no one sees it, it can’t possibly work. Misantrope that I am, I also like humanity. And people like brands that act like the people they like. Also, people like to laugh, cry, be surpised, learn.

I also believe in a lot of Ogilvyisms and Bernbachisms and Lee Clow’s beard-isms. There’s this one that I hold to by David: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” And this from Mr. Clow’s faux stubble: “Remember, advertising is supposed to be a service industry, not a servile one.”

That’s just me.

Others have different povs.

It seems people who sell cars today and mobile phones believe in shouting. They believe people don’t mind a mile or a minute of legal disclaimers. And they have an odd affinity for balloons. They could be right. Last year, 213 million cellphones were purchased in the US and almost 18 million cars.

Others of course believe in the absolutes of data and targeting and algorithms and doohickey-izing their communications. They sell a lot of stuff too. So who am I to say.

If you’re selling a $7 knife that’s sharper than a $300 knife, you probably believe that the best way to sell it is to repeat your incredible offer about six times in a :60 and then give-away a second knife free if viewers act now. Act now! you'll shout, because there are those who actually do.

My point in all this folderol is not to convince you of one posture or another.

My point is simpler. It’s that there are no “if-then propositions” in advertising or in life. No causality between doing x and getting y. Nothing is guaranteed.

Anyone who enters a room like the cock of the walk and crows that he or she or they or them know “how,” is a scoundrel.

We can only do what we believe in. Do it well, based on our knowledge of what’s worked for us in the past, and hope for the best. 

But we can't be absolute about anything. Because that leads to something incredibly dangerous: "that's-the-way-we've-always-done-it-ism."

If what you do doesn’t work, try something different. And keep trying. Like for 40 years.

Try with openness, humor, dedication, teamwork, hard work, more hard work, listening, more hard work, and more.

Then, as a wise person once said, remember this: “It’s only advertising.” And hope for the best.

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