As someone who tries to attune himself/herself/or itself to the vagaries of the English language, I spend a good amount of time with my ears to the ground listening to words and looking for meaning and how we use them.
What continues to astonish me, as a listening human being, is how few words are used in so many situations so often. This overuse renders a good portion of our lingua franca virtually meaningless.
There's a list of such words and phrases that seems to grow longer and more meaningless every day.
The list is a long one. And continues to get longer.
The problem with using words and phrases and images and designs in expected way is a big and deep one. It's a problem that affects all of us every day.
The normal order of life has a hierarchy. Some things are more important than others. Some chapters lead off a book, or episodes lead off a mini-series. Others follow. I'd go so far as to say that Shakespeare's plays, for instance, are almost all built on the ordained hierarchies of the day. Things went topsy-turvy when order was upset. In other words, order was key.
If you look at the nightly news today, you'll see that the natural order of things is gone. Juxtaposed against something gigantic they'll put in something light. We're not supposed to take even the news seriously. It's under the aegis, nowadays, of the entertainment people. No sense worrying about news when you have to worry about ratings.
The advertising industry also fails to distinguish between stunts and brand building. I can't believe a "Lay's (potato chip) vodka" does anything for any brand--outside of a perhaps temporary sales spasm. The idea, however, probably took as much work as TBWA's old Absolut campaign. I promise it won't have the impact.
I suppose the endemic issue today is our seeming inability to prioritize. I worked for a client once that had 24-straight quarters of decreasing revenue. The agency focused on stunts to bring back their relevancy. Rather than trying to define what that company did, why they were/are important and then figure out how to tell people in an intrusive way, we played games.
There's also a problem with the hype and bombast of the advertising industry. When every sale is the greatest sale of the century, and every minor tweak is regarded as the 21st Century equivalent of the invention of the wheel, nothing anymore has any truth or value.
It's not unusual to find today opinion writers using the phrase (or a phrase like this) "the post-truth era." Unfortunately, post-truth translates into post-reality. It means that there are no facts. And that every opinion is viable.
You can read a lot, if you can still read, about what noted writers have said about the use of exclamation points. I'm of the school that you should use no more than three exclamation points in your entire life and you probably already used two writing birthday greetings when you were in second grade.
I'm ok with:
"God returns! Said to be pissed." Or,
"Cancer cured! Billions to be spared untimely illness and death."
Or even, "Mets win weekend series!"
But little else warrants undo excitement.
Today, of course, undo excitement is the coin of the realm. In politics. On the news. And certainly throughout our industry. And, it's enabled by you and me and accepting things without question, exacerbated by the death (or near-death) of investigative journalism.
An agency I used to work at seems, every day, to announce that it's won yet another specious "Agency of the Year" Award. Yet no one says, "The agency had $X billion in revenue at the end of 2019 and now has just $1/2X billion in revenue. How can they be Agency of the Year according to anyone other than a crooked accounting firm."
Or, "Agency of the Year? Terrific. Show me the legitimate work for paying clients that ran in paid media that the agency did."
Maybe, as some people have suggested, I really am an alien from a far-away solar system. Or maybe my mindset is too much in the thrall of Vietnam-era thinking, and I question everything with too much vehemence.
There are some relatively enlightened people in the advertising business who, when they look at work don't immediately say, "what about the 11th client mandatory?" Instead, they say, "Why would anyone care?" Likewise, there must be humans somewhere who look at television commercials, or banner ads or tweets or websites and ask, "Why should I believe that?"
As communication professionals, I think we have a commitment to our craft that we don't spend enough time thinking about. Our craft--and the people we work for, that is, ultimately consumers--deserve to be told the truth. We should also commit to the archaic assumption that people are smart and can smell a rat--or a lie, or an exaggeration a mile off.
As communication professionals, I think we should think about those things. We should think about the lies the industry tells--about itself and for our clients (can you really get a phone for $49/month?) and we should think about the destruction such pathology wreaks.
Virtually everything I see, from pharma spots, to car ads, to telco ads, to technology ads show happy spinning and thinning people enjoying unlimited data and never-ending breadsticks. Everyone is so happy and fit and groomed while everyone I see in the real world is fat, rumpled and teetering on self-destruction.
Sure. That's hyperbolic and dark.
But the least we can do, as an industry and as individuals, is read the ad below once a month, and think about it once a week.
Is there an agency anywhere, or a holding company, that would care to talk about it?
What does our industry think about the value it provides? How should we treat viewers? What is our job--to serve clients or to train clients in imparting useful, truthful information in an executionally brilliant way.
I'm not in the industry anymore. I run my own industry. But I wish the industry had a point of view. Because it affects the future of our industry.
Do this or die.
Is this ad some kind of a trick?
No. But it could have been.
And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business.
We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people. Or so we think.
But we're wrong. We can't fool any of the people any of the time.
There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one.
We are a nation of smart people.
And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people.
Instead we talk to each other.
We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message.
A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same.
And above all, the messages we put on those pages on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.
Now. The other side of the coin.
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.
PS. You might want to read this.