Monday, April 6, 2020

Rethinking the Ad Industry.

This might be a little inchoate, a little “wooly” and hard to follow.

Who isn't inchoate these days? Even if you don't know what it means.

Since the end of the world first visited our shores (on November 8, 2016 or more recently with the onslaught of a rampaging virus accentuated by galloping arrogance heightened by unmatched incompetence) a lot of my advertising friends have contacted me.

They’re worried.

Worried about their jobs, the industry, their agency.

I don’t blame them.

I think the industry has consumed itself.
If it were an old man, it would be smelling toast.

To be blunt, advertising has lost its relevance. It's been absorbed by its self-absorption. Myopia is our opiate.

Because, I believe, it has lost its purpose. It has lost its intention. It has lost its understanding of its function. It no longer has a real idea of what advertising is supposed to do.

Let's re-evaluate, re-think, re-turn.

First, we’re supposed to be invisible. (We’re agents, after all.)

You know Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt. But not their agents. We have to remove ourselves from the “look at me” business. And rededicate ourselves to the “our clients business improves when we create ads for them. Here’s proof.”

Two, we have to stop with the buckshot bullshit. The always on, let’s send a hundred messages a day to everyone at every turn, business. That isn’t advertising. It’s desperation. 

Worse, it’s annoying. As an industry, we have to start telling our clients that advertising in aggregate will be more effective when there is less of it. When the people who see our ads don’t feel besieged by our ads. That includes 12 ads in a single commercial break, including four for Japanese cars, two for phone companies and two for complicated diseases.

Three, if our work is to be effective and liked, it has to be better than the shows that surround it. That means we have to stop saying how wonderful we are having shot something in 11 minutes for 11 dollars. 

It also has to say something that’s important to people. If I see one more commercial of twenty seconds of a single raindrop descending on a car windshield and a wistful looking driver looking out into the abyss followed by a logo, I think I’ll plotz. That’s a roundabout way of saying we must be artful, but we are not creating art. Sorry.

We’re paid better than artists, and the reason we are is that we’re selling something.

Fourth, we have to stand for something. A brand can produce a terabyte of “content” a day, but why would I read it? What value does the content have? Why should I read yours? What makes your chicken recipe or your technology point of view valid? 

About 100 years ago Henry Luce wrote four words on Time Magazine’s masthead. “The weekly news magazine.” I knew who they were and what their mission is.

The fact is, the last majority of taglines you can actually recall are probably forty years old or more. That’s not because they were created in a three network world. It’s because they coalesced and defined a brand and/or ethos and were about the company/product. They could be used only for that brand. “The ultimate driving machine.” “The tightest ship in the shipping business.” “The most personal computer.” “Have it your way.” “We try harder.” “The daily diary of the American dream.”

Not only are these executionally superior they are, more important, definitionally superior too. I mean, they’re memorable, ownable and they say what a company does. They aren’t empty and ugly and trendy to the point of utter meaninglessness, “The right way to money.” Or so insipid and innocuous that they lead people to say “we don’t need taglines.” No brand, it seems to me, says what they stand for anymore.

Fifth, fuck fake work. By definition, advertising is creativity that’s paid for by and in service of a client. If it wasn’t paid for by a client and didn’t help a client, enter it in some other contest. Not an advertising awards show.

Sixth, dignity. This will be the toughest one for people to get. There’s an “anti-advertising” sentiment that runs through the advertising industry. You hear it almost every day, punctuated by sentences like “we manipulate people into buying things they don’t want” or “we lie” or “we talk down to people.”

I have been in advertising my entire life, having had an uncle in the business since 1945, and a father since 1954. I have been making my living with words in the service of commerce since 1980.

I have never told a lie. Or manipulated anyone. Or talked down to people.

Those practices are choices people make, clients make and agencies make. But they are not the only choices.

We can choose to believe that what we do is vital to the world economy. That we create jobs, that we ease people’s lives, that we help people make decisions. We can choose to be truthful and vital to people by providing real information in an entertaining way. We can choose to follow the Golden Rule and treat people as we ourselves want to be treated.

Those things are choices.

And they’re why I get so angry when I see creative work that is filled with empty blandishments, meaningless jargon or is written at a second-grade level. And why I get so angry when I get communications for a company (even say a company’s timesheet department) that are shrill and imperious and downright mean.

Rob Schwartz, a friend and CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY sent me a quotation last Friday. I supposed each of us sensed the other was having some rocky times.

It was from Carlos Castaneda. “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

I think we can consider that quotation for the work we do, too. “It can either have integrity or it can suck. It can either be based on real emotions or cliché responses. It can either impart useful consumer information or be mere filmic decoration. The amount of work is the same.”

I know this was a helluva long read. Thanks for sticking with me.

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