Friday, March 4, 2022

Jane Brody and us.

My wife of almost 38 years and I have been voracious readers of The New York Times for well over half a century. That's not an exaggeration. In many New York households like the ones we grew up in, The New York Times was ever-present. In some, like the one I grew up in, the "paper" paper, which arrived at our front-door every morning, was literally fought over. 

God forbid someone wanted the Sports while someone else was doing the crossword. Or someone was reading a theatre review while someone else was reading the business section. The Times and its legendary writers became part of our lives.

One of those legendary writers was Jane Brody. Brody started writing the Health column in the Times way back when Gerald Ford was president, in 1976. My math says that means she wrote the column for 46 years and for the Times for 57 years.

Late last month, Brody retired. You can and should her last column here. If you're interested in really good writing, you owe it to yourself to read it and maybe save it.

Late last month, another Times writer, Tara Parker-Pope wrote a farewell tribute to Brody. There was a bit in it that made me think of the advertising industry--and what our real purpose is as advertising practitioners. 

Parker-Pope writes, "Jane was among the first journalists to recognize that better health doesn't happen in the doctor's office--it's rooted in the small decisions we make every day....

"In fact, when Jane first interviewed at The Times in 1965, she told managing editor, Clifton Daniel, that she thought the paper's science coverage fell short of serving its readers.

"It doesn't go far enough," she told him. "It doesn't help people live better lives."

Over the last 12 years or so, I've compiled a list of newspaper articles where complicated things are dissected and then explained, simply and entertainingly, to readers. 

Newspapers do this. But agencies don't, can't or won't. We don't have the expertise, the time or the talent. And I think the line I underscored above makes all the difference.

Our business has demeaned itself and destroyed any trust/esteem it once had by selling--only selling--to people, and usually shouting while doing it.

It's led me to conclude that newspaper journalists are ahead of advertising creatives in serving their readers. 

Simply because they hold to the belief that they are helping people live better lives.

By that I don't mean the bushwa purpose so many advertisers engage in to assuage their egos and whitewash or greenwash their iniquities. 

I mean, it's time for us--the ad industry--to recognize that what we sell is important to people, and therefore, even something as dopey as a hamburger or a credit card should be presented as something that actually serves you in some way.

If it's a burger, it's made out of better meat.

If it's a car, it's safer, or lasts longer.

If it's a telco, it's more reliable and attentive.

If it's a cloud, it provides better tools, access and security.

If you offer nothing better, and you're not helping people live better lives, what's the point?

Find something better. Then advertise.

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