Friday, April 10, 2020

The experience pendulum.

Over the past decade, or maybe 15 or 20 years, we’ve lived through some swinging times. By that I mean all of us old enough to have been old 10, 15 or even 20 years ago have seen a giant pendulum swing all the way to one side. As far from center, as far from equilibrium as it could possibly gravitate.

If, as Columbia professor and two-time Pulitzer-winner Richard Hofstadter theorized, there’s always been a deep American strain of anti-intellectualism, it reached its apogee (I hope) in the years leading up to and including Trump.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before have so many been led by so ill-qualified to such bad ends. Go where you want with that. Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush, Dan Quayle and our current intellectual and moral dissembling abortus.

The same affliction has all but ruined what was once one of America’s most glamorous (and profitable) industries. Pseudo-science has reigned and marketing dilettantism has more often than not carried the day.

The daily Corona-related statements, typically, “After Corona, _________ will be more __________” or “After Corona, ________ will never be the same” boggles what’s left of my mind. How the fuck do you, whoever’s speaking, know?

In almost every sphere of our lives, advertising and life itself, the guru-ocracy has continually asserted that almost any activity can be turned into an if/then proposition.
People like my hero, Gary V. are no anomaly. They infest just about every fetid corner in the world today.

If you produce a lot of content, then you will be successful.

If you are an early adopter of TikTok (156-page End User License Agreement not withstanding) then sales will ensue.

If you spout inane homilies (pursue your dreams) then you will someday own a football team that’s gone 68-92 over its last ten seasons. Halavai.

In our business, we’ve seen the rise and fall of click through rates. Interactivity. Google plus. Vine. User generated content. And probably about 32 other asinine geegaws that made one person rich and cost ten-thousand people money.

As PT Barnum never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute and he works in marketing.”

I hope the pendulum swings back.

From the death of expertise not to the other extreme, the over-reliance of “that’s the way it’s always been done-ism,” but to a sensible middle ground. (I am a middle child. I feel comfortable seeing both sides of a story.)

I’m going to call what fantastic creatives do—the Rich Siegels and Ben Kays and Jenny Nicholsons of the world—the right approach.

I’ll call this promised land “Experienced Experimentation.”

It’s decision-making based on years of experience accompanied by the wisdom that says, “well, who knows? We should try this. It reminds me of this—that worked—let’s give it a whirl.”

In the past decades of advertising alchemy, in which as an industry we’ve claimed we could turn base bullshit into gold, I’ve learned one thing.

Only one thing works. Creative that imparts useful information in an executionally brilliant way. 

Tell me it doesn’t.

Experienced Experimentation has the acumen to come up with that sort of creativity guided by active and informed trial and error that allows you to admit that no one, including yourself, knows for sure.

My personal belief based on reading thousands of biographies and histories and studying hundreds of notable advertising careers is that the best people are right 60% of the time and wrong 40% of the time.

For whatever reason, I’ll quote Papa Hemingway here, from his best book, “The Nick Adams Stories.”

“He had already learned there was only one day at a time and that is was always the day you were in. It would be today until it was tonight and tomorrow would be today again. This was the main thing he had learned so far.”

Like most Hemingway that sounds about as simple as a Bazooka Joe cartoon.
It ain’t.

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