Tuesday, April 18, 2023



A long long time ago, before most of the people reading this piece were even born, I read a long article in the New Yorker about the decline in the quality of City College of New York.

The article was written close to the time that New York went bankrupt, and even closer to the 1977 black-out looting and burnings. Also, close to the time that the city, in an attempt to restore some semblance of fiscal solvency decided to start charging tuition for students to attend the City University--which had historically been free.

City College opened in the mid-1800s as the world's first free college. And quickly attained the epigram as the "poor man's Harvard." 

Aspiring people from all over the city and all over the world--too poor or too non-WASPy to attend the Ivies--flocked to CCNY. The result was a spate of Nobel Prizes, great art, literature, thinking and more--all up there on 145th Street, close by the Hudson.

The article I read however, was writ well-after CCNY's glory days had faded, and by an assistant professor visiting from the land we then called West Germany. He bemoaned the quality of the students he was to teach. Worse, he claimed a more fundamental deficit among CCNY's students. 

The visiting professor broke down the breakdown in an interesting--and profound--way. He said functioning brains need to play basically three roles and that some of CCNY's students were unable to perform these three essential functions.

1. They need to be able to understand information.
2. They need to be able to classify, sort and store that information.
3. They need to be able to recall that information, so they can use it.

As I wander I wonder. 

And from the way salespeople serve me when I ask a question, to what I see in my daily engagements with the advertising industry today, I see the same essential lacunae virtually everywhere.

There's no understanding. There's no memory. There's no recall.

I'll admit, this rant could be little more than an old man howling at the moon. It's possible thinking and service are as alive and well as ever. It's possible--perhaps probable--that the way my generation was taught to learn, think and process is not the way today's generations were taught to do the same. It's possible--perhaps probable--that my seismic break from today's today-ness is more age-based than reality-based.

In other words, as my daughters would admonish me: get over yourself.

However, it does seem that no communications today--whether by human or via media--contain any sort of information that could be filed under the heading "I didn't know that." What's the point of communication--why should you pay attention at all--if you're not hearing anything new?' What's more, to my mind, different is a component of new.

Even when I see spots that are fairly interesting, I often say, well any gum makes your mouth fresh, every car has self-parking and Apple carplay, and music from every phone or crunch from corn chip sends us into paroxysms of joy--followed by lordosis-imbued dance steps.)

The problem of blanderization of communications runs deep. I believe that the direct marketing people who dominated the early digital industry are now dominating what's left of the ad industry. 

Direct and digital were always about using lists and targeting to break through. Because these disciplines were meant to be more scientific, they tended to obviate the importance of creativity--because creativity is not understood by those with science backgrounds. Therefore minimize its importance.

That's led us to our current industrial-sized industry miasma. Not only do people not do good creative, they don't even understand the basics of and the basis for good creative. Just like we don't understand the basics of learning or communicating.

Even commercials and the like picked up in the trade-press--where ostensibly the industry is showing off to itself--are to my eyes weak and half-assed. At best, they get attention but don't differentiate. Or differentiate but, who cares. At worst, they just. blather on with bullet points, exclamation points and pointlessness.

I have a pretty simple remedy if you're a client or agency that needs help turning things around.

I go into every assignment with the notion that the client pays for every word with their budget and customers pay for every word with their time.

If you don't give people something worth loving, you're going to piss them off and be ineffective.

There's not much more to life than knowing that.

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