Wednesday, April 5, 2023


As as I I do do so so often often,, I've I've been been thinking thinking a a bit bit about about dedication dedication to to the the task task..

The task demands repetition.

Today, it seems like about one-third of the advertising trade "news" heralds a stunt, an activation, a web video, or some other creative filip that will run--amid the worldwide cacophony of thousands of messages a day--about once or twice or for about a week or two.

Not long ago to support something or other, or to pretend they support something or other or to get press for pretending to support something or other, the Cracker Jack company purportedly repackaged some of its packaging as Cracker Jill.

This has about as much chance of showing real and actual support as El Chapo appearing in one of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" commercials. 

Yet, this kind of horsecockery counts as notable in today's marketing schema.

About a decade and a half ago, I was being punished by the advertising gods for some assault against those same gods. I was made head of office of a business consultancy that decided to try to pretend to be an ad agency. The executive leadership team were twelve Harvard MBAs who were ex-Bain consultants. And then there was me.

A lot of what I had to do was change their ingrained behavior. To at least stop and think before doing things the way they'd been trained to do them while in MBA school. 

I remember saying this, "I've lived in four separate apartments in the last two years as I moved from New York, to San Francisco and two apartments in Boston. If you're used to emptying the dishwasher and putting the dinnerplates off to the right, it takes a lot of relearning to start putting the dinnerplates off to the left. Your muscle memory for right-side dinnerplates is strong."

But in advertising, we've forgotten Salvador Dali's and everyone elses' Persistence of Memory.

We think people care. 

We think they notice.

We think we matter.

We think we can get by with once-isms.

As an industry, we took those falsehoods and the promise of cheap media (digital) put them together and created our current industry-wide belief system which is based on the lie that our messages register.

We think we can build brands without hard work, ideas, media and production dollars and repetition. We think we can stuntify our way to success. Or, even, logo our way to success. Or one spot with no media behind it our way to success.

I've seen about 99.7-percent of brand managers destroy decades of brand-building "reasons to believe," simply because they decided such brain-wiring actions were too expensive, not right for 'younger consumers' or were boring.

Consumers used to know things about brands, no matter how boring those brands were. Not because they cared. Not because advertising was better. Not because there were only three networks. But because brands spend massive amounts of money to serve and protect their reason for being. And because brands and their agencies kept at that work for literally decades.

  • So, we knew Bounty was the quicker-picker-upper.
  • We knew BMW was the ultimate driving machine.
  • We knew Wisk got out ring around the collar.
  • We knew United was friendly.
  • Avis tried harder.
  • Marlboro were for cowboys.
  • Pontiacs were wider.
  • Fords had better ideas.
  • Die Hards could start your car after weeks of cold.
  • Energizer kept going.
  • Raisin Bran had two scoops of raisins.
  • Chips Ahoy had sixteen chips.
  • Federal Express got it there overnight.
  • American Express was security when you were away.
  • Listerine killed germs on contact.
In short, we knew what brands did. What made them different. And why we should buy them.

Those three sentences are the fundament of advertising.

We've forgotten.

We didn't repeat them often enough. 

I don't know why. But in my lifetime, we've gone from

          This                        to                           This

and then we wonder why we're no longer a cool, important, profitable profession that attracts and retains good people. 

Because we concoct some bullshit that runs counter to 200,000 years of human evolutionary brain-wiring and think everything is different every two weeks. As Faulkner wrote in "Requiem for a Nun." "The past is not dead; It is not even past."

Do you need me to repeat this?

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