Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I love you. You love me.

I’m sick of adjectives.
I’m sick of jargon.
I’m sick of being told how I feel.

I’m sick of unsubstantiated claims.
I’m sick of blind assertions.
I’m sick of Newspeak masquerading as truth.

I’m sick of chest-beating.
I’m sick of cause-washing.
I’m sick of people telling me how much they care.

Most of all, I’m sick of companies, and their agencies,
telling people half truths and assuming we’re too busy to do some fact-checking. Or, as we used to say, some digging.

Not long ago I saw an ad on LinkedIn.
It was from the Chevron company.
Naturally, they we’re banging their own drum.
Proclaiming their kindness and munificence as a corporation.
Here’s the press-release the ad was based on.

Chevron would be spending $100 million “to lower the emissions of oil & gas and invest in technologies in low-carbon value chains.”

It took me eleven seconds to find out that Chevron’s market cap as of June 22, 2020, in a depressed petroleum market is over $170 billion.

It took me thirty seconds to do some math.

If Chevron was worth $170,000, 
they’d be spending $100 on clean energy.

Less than 1/10th of 1 percent.

Not a penny on a dollar. 
Less than 1/10th of a penny on a dollar.

I see ad agencies doing the same thing.

WPP is spending $30 million over three years in an anti-racism pledge. WPP’s market cap is nearly $50 billion.

If WPP was worth $50,000, they’d be spending $30 on battling racism.

Less than 1/10th of 1 percent.

Not a penny on a dollar. 
Less than 1/10th of a penny on a dollar.
That's less than 1/30th of a penny on a dollar 
when spread over three years.

But all these companies love us.
They tell us so.
They issue proclamations to that effect.

Here’s my point.
Our job as advertising people is to tell the truth.

It’s to find out facts and make them compelling.

Carl Ally put it this way in the best agency mission statement ever written:
“We impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.”

We live in a post-fact era. Covid isn't real. The earth isn't warming. Evolution is a theory.

In Tuesday’s New York Times, Nobel-Prize-winner Paul Krugman decried “a plague of willful ignorance.”

Every planner in the world may hate me for this
but I think the chimera that we could help brands create an
emotional connection with consumers is over.

Most advertising we love: Apple, Volkswagen, Volvo gave viewers facts from which they could build an emotional connection.

My belief is the false promise of false emotional connection has led advertising back to pre-Bernbachian days.

The days of decoration.
The days of bullshit.
The days of hyperbole.

Which ad do you feel more of an emotional connection to?

The “emotional” one? Or the fact-based one?

I got kicked out of the agency world.
Unless I need a pay-cut for tax reasons,
I’ll never work for a holding company again.

They won't have me, anyhow.
I'm not locked-down, 
lock-jawed and 
lock-stepped into conformity.

But if I did run a holding company, I’d make everyone—at the client and ad the agency—read the copy below.

At least once a month.
Maybe I’d paint it on the walls.
And put it in the footer of emails where currently 
we proclaim how many spurious awards we’ve won.

Telling the truth about a product demands a product that's worth telling the truth about.

Sadly, so many products aren't.

So many products don't do anything better. Or anything different. So many don't work quite right. Or don't last. Or simply don't matter.

If we play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster.

No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits.

That's the lesson to remember.

Unless we do, we die.

Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel.

That day we die.

We'll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises.

Not with a bang. Not with a whimper.

But by our own skilled hands.

That was written by Bob Levenson back in 1970.

It's 50 years old.

That’s pretty old for an obituary.

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