Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Making a Spectacle of Ourselves.

There was an important op-ed by David Brooks in The Times on Friday, called "The Age of Spectacle is Upon Us." You can read it here.

Brooks' op-ed isn't about advertising. But after a week of watching what seemed like half the industry celebrating its own success in Cannes, I can't help but read it that way. I'm not much for public masturbation, but the ad industry this week seemed to be fully engaged and in full view.

The subject-object split in advertising, where almost every ad you see sucks and then hundreds of ads you've never seen are given hundreds of awards is an absurdist show, like something by Ionesco or a urinal by R. Mutt. I don't really understand the celebration. The disconnect between what we do and what matters to putative consumers seems very complete.

Now, as promised, over to David Brooks' essay. While you're reading it, think of Cannes and the Cannesization of our industry. 

Brooks writes:

"In a healthy society, the early-20th-century Dutch prime minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper observed, there are a variety of spheres, each with its own social function. 

"There is the state, the church, the family, the schools, science, business, the trades, etc. Each of these spheres, he continued, has its own rules and possesses its own integrity and correct way of doing things. Each sphere is a responsible zone of flourishing...

"Society grows unhealthy, Kuyper argued, when one sphere tries to take over another sphere. In our country, the business sphere has sometimes tried to take over the education sphere — to run schools like a business. But if you run a school or university on the profit-maximization mentality, you will trample over the mission of what a school is for... 

"Today, the boundaries between spheres are collapsing. You go into an evangelical megachurch and it can feel like a political pep rally. Some professors now see themselves as political activists. You open your email and find corporations taking political stances on issues that have nothing to do with their core businesses.

"Some days it seems every sphere has been subsumed into one giant culture war, producing what Yuval Levin described in Comment magazine as 'a vast sociopolitical psychosis.'

"...politics as spectacle that has taken over everything.

"Spectacle is the sphere that achieves public
titillation through public combat.
 In Rome, gladiatorial combat was spectacle. Professional wrestling is spectacle. Reality TV is spectacle. Donald Trump — the love child of professional wrestling and reality TV — is spectacle. Tucker Carlson presented TV news as spectacle. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence perform activism in the form of spectacle.

"The point of spectacle is not to resolve differences; it is to attract attention. In spectacle you thrive by offending people. Narcissism is rewarded, humility is forbidden..."


I see the fanfare.

I see the back-patting.

I see the PR and the awards.

I know the notion of AOR has withered.
Attrition rates are high.

The best and the brightest aren't entering the business.

And it wasn't long-ago that the Wall Street Journal reported, "Marketing budgets have fallen to 6.4% of companies’ revenue this year from 11% last year, according to the annual CMO Spend Survey by research firm Gartner Inc. The new level is the lowest since the survey began in 2012 and the first time it has dipped below 10%, Gartner said."


Still, we celebrate.

We spectacle-ize.


We focus on everything but doing good work that helps brands and that people care about.


Er, I mean real work. That actually ran. That was made to move a needle. Not just tame a lion.



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