About six months ago, when I was still working at a big famous agency, I was interviewed by someone somewhere.
Six months ago from the vantage point of the Ides of April feels like a lifetime. So much has changed in the world, and as New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel pointed out in yesterday’s paper, no one knows what’s going to happen and we have so many more questions than answers.
Anyway back to around August when I was asked by a trade magazine what I thought was the biggest problem facing brands today.
I answered with my usual and ineffable sagacity.TM
“I think the biggest problem facing brands is establishing trust in a post-fact world.”
In fact, if a behavioral scientist designed a study to measure the trust people today have in communications—whether they’re from a brand, a friend or a politician—my guess is that trust would score a near zero.
I’m reminded of a line Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy said in “Bull Durham.” “A guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay.”
People will agree with politicians, or commercials or even those posing as friends if they think they’ll accrue some material edge. But brands and trust are supposed to be more than merely transactional. You buy my soap I’ll give you clearer more supple skin in 15 days. They’re supposed to work on an even deeper level than that.
These days, in what’s still called advertising, you hear the word “authentic” nearly as often as you hear someone say, “you’re late with your time-sheets.” Nike, for instance, is authentically for athletes. Especially those who don’t care that wage-slaves make their shoes. Apparently the litmus test for authenticity is “is it made from ocean plastic?”
About 70 years ago Arthur Miller wrote these lines. I took them from a great poem called “Lines from California.”
Brotherhood is when two men have the same mother.
Sacrifice is a car sold at a ridiculous price.
Society is when people listen to classical music;
or a Savings & Loan.
Law is order, Justice a decent return on money.
Progress is anything turning on and off by itself.
Beauty is teeth, deep skill, and the willingness.
Freedom is the right to live among your own kind.
A philosophy is a keen sense of land values
and the patience to wait.War is peace waged by other means.
If, as an industry we are to get to what I believe is our key job—reestablishing trust—we have to first posit something very simple and very ancient.
People are smart.
They have built-in bullshit detectors.
They can reason.
They can sense deception and hyperbole.
They can read.
They can “handle” the truth if we give it to them.
Not like the car-lease commercials do with nine screens of legal type which in essence says, “We’re telling the truth with all these conditions.” Or pharma commercials where “fair balance” essentially says, “this might help you but you might get diarrhea and you’ll probably die.” Not like just about every ad ever written which is so loaded with “cans” and “helps” as to be all but meaningless.
No, we need ways to be truthful. Truthful, remember, with caveats, hedges and provisos is really Lieful.
There’s more to do as an industry.
There’s more to do as an industry.
For all our blabbering poppycock about diversity, there is no acceptance of anyone who doesn’t toe the corporate hegemony. There are very few in our industry who have the guts and the paid-for mortgage and/or trust-fund to say no to a client.
Reestablishing trust is going to take a different kind of creative.
It must be more detailed, more informative, more journalistic than a banner or a video homage to a raindrop.
Reestablishing trust is going to take different kinds of people.
People who call bullshit. Who say, “why would I believe that” the way we used to say, “why would I watch that.”
Reestablishing trust is going to take a different kind of relationship between clients and agencies.
Where agencies can say “no” without fear of being fired. If an agency has an airline account and agrees for instance to a client’s insistence on showing smiling flight-attendants, they are contributing to the death of trust.