As a nascent suburbanite, I am seeing parts of the world and creatures in the world that I have never before seen.
I remember as a little boy waking up in a strange home on a windy day. I saw for the first time the tops of trees swaying in the breeze. I was convinced the tree had to topple. Nothing could lean like that and not fall.
I realized many years later, I had never seen a tree before. Sure I had seen the little mutants that grow on city streets. But I had never seen one that towered. Who knew?
Today--sixty years later--I am having the same sensation as I walk along the seaside here along the Gingham Coast of Connecticut. I don't think, outside of some sparrows, robins or pigeons, I had ever seen birds before.
The first bird to fascinate me was the Osprey. In the Spring and Summer, the skies teem with them here. And since our rickety home is on a cliff above the sea, we see them rise from the surf with a menhadin or a striped bass in their talons, hieing back to their giant nests in the marsh to feed themselves and their fledglings.
With that avian escapade in mind, I recently read a book review in The Wall Street Journal and another (here) in the New York Times of "A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds."
No, it must be said, I am not going to become a birder. I am not buying a three-foot lens covered in camo and waders and all the other accouterments of the birding brotherhood. But one part of the book had appeal to me as a denizen of the ad business and as an observer of humankind.
I quote it here:
“You know what bothers me about scientists?” my mother asked some years ago. “They always say, ‘We used to think, but now we know.’ ” If I remember correctly, she was ticked off over some flip-flopping research about diet and health, maybe the endless eggs-are-good/eggs-are-bad debate, but I have to admit, she had a point. Science is a process, one where ideas are proposed, tested, and discarded if new evidence demands it. Any good researcher (if they’re being true to the scientific method) ought to say, “We used to think, but now we think.”
As someone who's occupied senior roles in ten or so agencies, I've sat in a lot of meetings during my long days and longer nights. And all agencies, whether they're specialists in digital media, events, direct marketing or what is not retronymically-called 'traditional advertising,' trot out the same spiel.
There's always some science like in the quotation above that will solve today's problems and therefore carry the day. There's always someone--usually with an accent (real or not)--who has figured out, like a religious zealot, 'the one true path to marketing salvation.'
Maybe it's ad tracking.
Maybe it's buying this many GRPs.
Maybe it's a rotating and orange "Learn more" button.
One of those--according to Madison Avenue and all its byways--is the answer. The completion of the great "if-then proposition" that states, "if we do X, then Y will happen."
I've seen it and heard it and so have you.
But I go back to the lines above, "we used to think..." (hahahaha, we were so dumb and naive) "now we know..." (we've learned so much. We've really figured things out.)
The thing is, you no one knows anything.
As the Flitcraft chapter ("G in the Air) from Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" tells us,
"What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away."
In other words, the world is the world, and strange shit happens. In fact the least strangest thing in the world is strange shit happening. Strange is, in fact, normal.
What's dumb and filled with hubris is asserting that YOU know. That your agency's methodology or style or tuned-inned-ness is the answer.
Nope. It ain't.
What I've seen in the business is this. This is what works.
People like to laugh. People like to learn. People like to feel smart. They like to know things their neighbors don't. They like to be entertained. And they get bored easily.
Keep doing work till you have something that fits that description.
Then run it.
Then do it again.
Sure, there's a lot of waste and inefficiency and losses and mistakes and cost in operating this way.
But it's better than the other way.