Tuesday, March 17, 2020

13 new rules for a new ad industry.

After the great plague, the Black Death, wiped out about one-third of the world's population in the mid-1300s, as you'd expect, a lot changed.
The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemutfrom the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel.😁

For the purposes of today's post, I'll talk about just one of those things: the relationship between capital and labor.

In the wake of the Black Death, perhaps for the first time in human history, there was a labor shortage. Serfs (and most of Europe was in serfdom) all of a sudden began demanding higher wages. 

In fact, Oxford historian Rodney Howard Hilton has argued that "those English peasants who survived found their situation to be much improved. For many Europeans, the 15th century was a golden age of prosperity and new opportunities. The land was plentiful, wages high, and serfdom had all but disappeared."

There's no telling what changes our current pandemic and climate crises will visit upon our small blue marble. And it would be hyperbolic on my part to assert that the rapacious cruelty of the holding company era is inexorably being crushed under the weight of its own avarice. But if I were running the circus, an agency or a holding company, and I wanted to attract the best people in the industry to come to my entity (because advertising runs on people, not algorithms) I would think about forming a different social contract with the people I hoped to employ.

[Since the four holding companies are an oligopoly, nothing is impelling them to change their practices. As long as they collude on the wages and benefits they offer, the 'at will' employee, like the serf of so long ago, has two choices. Take it or leave it.]

Anyway, here's what I would do. It might cost shareholders value in the short-term. In the long term they would gain, because we would have the industry's top talent working for us.

New Rules for New Advertising.

No fake deadlines. Anyone, whether they're a client, account person, project manager, creative manager or creative director who gives you a fake deadline will be summarily dismissed. We will no longer whip people based on lies or convenience or petty insecurities.

No unproven assertions. Anyone who says, no one reads anymore, or millennials don't watch TV, or people love six-second ads, or opening a commercial with a corporate logo increases sales and recall must back up those statements with three (3) verifiable independent data sources. And also, contradictory data according the rules of scientific probity, ie no cherry picking from sources created to bolster your agenda.

Creative agencies will be run by people who understand creativity. Just as baseball managers generally come from the ranks of people long-associated with the game, advertising leaders must love, live and breathe advertising.

We will eliminate jargon. Or at least, as an industry, we will begin our journey toward a jargonless interface and a new semantic paradigm. Get it?

Kindness matters. The best clients and agency people I've ever worked for were always the kindest. Even if kindness means nothing more than saying 'please' and 'thank you' and posits an understanding that some people like to see their kids in the evening.

A lunch hour. A break during the day, a full-hour long, will be mandated and sacrosanct. We all need to eat, to laugh, to breathe, to do errands and the incessant hum of humdrum meeting does more to kill creative spark than nearly anything I can think of.

A return to paper. Creativity will be improved when we once again separate idea from execution. Once we sketch visual thoughts and scribble headlines. We're better when we show ideas quickly and roughly and allow that roughness the latitude to elicit valuable feedback about substantive issues rather than, 'I don't like the talent's cardigan.'

Everyone works. We will eliminate supervisors who take a finished idea change three words and make it theirs--or purportedly justify their worth by coming in late to an assignment and making non material changes on a blustered whim. Everyone must have ab ovo assignments that they create and produce. That is our business and no one "seniors out of it."

Eliminating Sea Gulls. Every agency has a flock or two or ten of Sea Gulls. Senior people who "swoop and poop." They come in late, take a shit and leave.

Books. I've never been in an agency worth its NaCl that didn't have a library of interesting books--not just awards books. A library. And nice places to sit. And rooms filled with "reels." Because an agency should be filled with inspiration and ideas. It should be kind and comfortable and well-designed. And maybe not look like a sweatshop designed by a zombie version of Florence Knoll.

Plumbers. In my neighborhood a good, senior plumber with 10,000 hours under her belt makes about $400 an hour. A psychotherapist, more. A lawyer at a white shoe firm maybe three times that amount. If our job is truly instrumental to the health of brands we should be paid accordingly.

Fakery. If award shows don't police themselves, don't require documentation that entries really ran (as entered) and were paid for by actual clients, then we should stop entering awards shows. As currently constituted they are little more than self-serving displays of self-promotion and self-pleasuring. No other business indulges in such a level of self-gratification, and certainly not a serious business. Except maybe Hollywood.

Learning. We will teach young people the seminal works and workers of the past. Because just as lawyers know precedence and doctors know medical history, we too should study our lineage. Everyone should have an advertising education that includes a core curriculum of brilliant work--not merely marketing speak, powerpoint and baroque deckafecation. 


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