Friday, January 24, 2020

Huxley anticipated the future of the world. And also advertising.

You should call in sick today or go home. Sit on your sofa or in your favorite chair and read Neil Postman's book from 1985 "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

No matter what you're doing now, reading Postman's book is more important.

In it, Postman compares Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." It seems as of this moment in both the world and our industry, Huxley was the better prognosticator.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. 

What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. 

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. 

Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. 

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. 

Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. 

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. 

Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.

To my jaded and seductively blue eyes, Huxley's fears could  be describing the downfall of the advertising industry as it teeters in 2020.

  • There's no one who wants to read. 
  • We're reduced to passivity and egoism. 
  • We're drowned in a sea of irrelevance. 
  • We have become a trivial culture.
In fact, anyone of those would serve, I think, as a tagline for most agency creative departments and most awards shows.

Showing work within an agency, you're almost always told, "no one reads," or "there's too many words."

We seem to care most passionately about our own awards and advancement.

We spend the bulk of our time on fake work or work so on the fringes that no one ever sees it (at least outside of the ad community.)

We care not about the material and commercial success of our clients but on spurious golden statuary.

Of course not every agency.
Not every account.

Not every day.

But when Sir John Hegarty asserts that as an industry "advertising has retreated to the fringes..." maybe we should spend a little time as agency not discussing how to slice and dice our work to finagle it into yet another over-priced award show, but instead start thinking seriously about what we do as an industry.

To borrow from Huxley, but putting a Pangloss on his dystopia, do we:
  • create work that people want to read because it informs, enriches and entertains.
  • creative work that impels people to action or provides them with genuine reasons to care.
  • find human truths based on human emotions, fears and pains so that we do not become irrelevant.
  • in so doing do we undo our self-enforced trivialization and become, once again, important to brands and the people who buy things.

In his great book, "The Empire of Illusion" Christopher Hedges wrote, "we now live in two societies: One, the minority...can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other, a growing majority, is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. In this “other society,” serious [thought is] being pushed to the margins."

I think we need to decide, as an industry, which society we want to operate in.

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