Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Advertising made easy. And insipid.

For as long as I’ve been in this benighted business, I’ve operated on a somewhat cynical assumption. Most clients don’t know the ins-and-outs of their offerings well enough to know what makes them different or better than their competition.

I know it’s terribly au courant to say that we live in a post-fact age—and details and unique selling propositions no longer matter. But I’m not really buying that idea. Most of the commercials that seem to me to be effective usually impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

Apple became a trillion-dollar-brand doing essentially that in commercial after commercial, print ad after print ad. Even Hyundai’s latest commercial on a self-parking car seems to be singing from that hymnbook.

Or he/him/she/her/they/them-book.       

I suspect it’s much easier to create bland work about some feeling a brand creates than to dig deep and get to the essence of what makes something vital.

Not too long ago I had a mini-assignment to work on a high-end TV brand. I did some research and discovered the difference between an LED screen and an OLED screen. I have to believe about one person in ten-thousand knows the difference.

LEDs are lit by a back light. The OLED screen is it by millions of individual lights embedded inside individual diodes. When those lights were off, they were off. Whereas the back light could never be fully off. That meant that the screen with millions of lights could produce blacker blacks—because their black was based on the absence of light.

That seems relatively simple and believable to me. If you can make it interesting enough for people to understand.

What occurred to me today is how few agencies today know what makes them different.

Sure, they all have their proprietary nonsense about getting to the core of the ectoplasm of brands and the customer. But none of that matters or is even vaguely decipherable to anyone who doesn’t add a big pour of McKinsey to their morning coffee.

Maybe because agencies no longer dig deep and determine what makes brands or products different, they no longer dig deep and determine what makes their brand or product different either.

This isn’t about a tag line or a bunch of diagrams. This is about how you approach an assignment, what you present, what it’s based on and how it’s produced. This is about talent. Finding talent that digs deeper. That doesn’t follow formulae. Finding talent that believes that information intelligently handled can persuade people as effectively today as it did thousands of years ago when people learned of gods and war and love and loss around campfires.

In modern parlance, you could call this a mission. A mission and a belief. A mission, a belief and a core value. That, in the words of Dave Trott “a rational demonstration can have a more powerful emotional effect than something vacuous designed purely to appeal to the feelings.”
That was then.

This is now.
In short, “done properly, reason is emotion.”

We might, if we care to create an entity that did something different, also
build on some words Bob Levenson wrote many years ago when he was at DDB. That:

“There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one.
“We are a nation of smart people.

“And most smart people ignore smart advertising because most advertising ignores smart people.

“Instead we talk to each other.

“We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message.”

But to proffer any of that at an agency today would get you cast out into the wilderness. You’re old, they would tell you. Today’s consumer has no attention span. Marketing doesn’t work that way anymore.

And 99% of the industry—clients included—go along with it. It’s so much easier to take the road more traveled. To assume the consumer is a moron. To abide by the dominant complacency of the age: If I show people happy and smiling and dancing when they use my product, viewers will believe it because it shows what happens emotionally when you eat a new, nacho-cheesier nacho-cheesier nacho.

What’s more smiles and high-fives and fist bumps and spontaneous dancing are so much easier to do and that what everyone else is doing so it must be right. And creative parroting will allow us to hire the inexperienced, which allows us to drive wages down, cut staffing and quality and become a low-cost provider of work that neither educates nor enlightens.

That’s how most brands, and agencies, seem to operate today.

We spend our time fighting over details while the lights have gone out.

As an industry we may extol the genius of Apple’s great ethos “Think Different.” And many of us might have memorized the words to Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.”

But the reality is we hate different. And we prize, not constructive lunacy, but lockstep conformity.

Yes sir!

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