Monday, October 9, 2023

Manhattan Melodrama.

On Saturday morning at ten, my wife and I headed down to Webster Hall on East 11th Street for an event in this year's 
New Yorker Festival. I'll admit, I'm not a big believer in events as advertising vehicles. Not only are they hard to scale (and hard to afford) it's hard for me to see the brand-value of them for most brands. 

For instance if you look at the ad above, you'll see a Volkswagen logo. On other screens and venues at the festival, you'd have seen logos for National Geographic (which I believe is now part of the Disney conglomerate), Marriott hotels and Paramount Pictures. While there was signage and brightly colored electric VW mini-nostalgia vehicles parked at Webster Hall, and a :15 second crappy commercial before the event itself, Volkswagen's "presentation of" was nothing more than an annoyance. A deep-pocketed advertiser trying to push their way into my cerebellum without giving me anything of value in return.

The brand "experience" of the New Yorker Festival is that in many of its events (we saw on the same stage Julia Louise- Dreyfus in conversation with New Yorker editor, David Remnick) the magazine itself comes to life. Like similar New York Times events, through discussions, lectures, movies and more, these events are able to dimensionalize and vivify the usual two-dimensional presentation of a publication. That's a good brand activation--and I'll pay for that. Glomming your corporate logo onto that and saying "presented by" is an empty imposition on the viewer. It makes me more apt to despise the intrusion than respect the intruder.

The New Yorker Festival presented by VW is expensive. It costs much more than a print AND digital subscription. It ain't presented by VW, it's sullied by VW.

For 75 minutes, we saw Jane Mayer, David Grann and Patrick Keefe talking with their editor David Zalewski. As I so often do, I saw parallels between their sort of investigative journalism and story-telling and what we're supposed to be doing in advertising.

In the parlance of the highest-height in the field of investigative journalism, all three panelists told of their Ahabian-efforts to as Robert Caro puts it, "turn every page," to get to the truth, depth, uniqueness, interest and meat of a story.

All three, and Zalewski, praised the New Yorker magazine and its readers for giving them the time and support and space to find something interesting and remarkable and then present it to readers. The foundation of all this is respect for the viewer or the reader. 

Respect that people like a good story and will stick with it in return for a unique view and an unattainable-anywhere-else-look at whatever subject they are writing on. (For instance, Grann's best-seller "The Wager," is about an obscure 18th-century shipwreck. I can imagine how many editors and people who have said to him about the topic, 'who cares?' The writer's  job, dear reader, is to make people care.)

When I look at ads, wherever I see them, walking through the city, on tv, on my phone or computer in print on the back of my metrocard or the side of filthy delivery trucks, I see a veritable disdain for the people the ads are directed to.

I see in them no news.

I see in them generic, indistinguishable, uninteresting observations rendered in tired verbal and visual cliches. According to American advertising, everything you can buy is exactly the same and everything you can buy "let's you be you."

In other words, we spend April in Parity--and every other month too. Every tropical island shows the same cerulean water and lissome fat-free woman in a white bathing suit with a heavily muscled Adonis with the requisite three-days of beard. Every wine or spirits ad tangoes with the same bottle shot, the same sleepy language, the same Hallmark homage to authenticity and so on. Soon, we will be deluged with ads for office-seekers. They too, will have a mass-production sameness--now with 20-percent more mudslinging.

Just as you can find nothing unique or with character in 99.9-percent of big-box retailers, you can find nothing unique or with character from 99.9-percent of the world's big-box holding company ad agencies. 

Everything is commoditized, undifferentiated and bland, because fundamentally that's how we regard our viewers. And our craft. 

As above, why take the time, why expend the effort, why 'turn every page,' when we can just dial-it-in and earn our conference room-praise while still having four-hours leftover to do our timesheets. 

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, now coming to the close of its fourth year, is doing better than ever. And I like the name of my agency. It's named after me because I am me and clients get me.

But if I had to re-name it, if George Santos or George Gobel sued me for "george-rights," I'd rename my joint "Pedestal."

We have to, if we want to make something real, put our clients and our audience up on a pedestal. We have to care. We have to work. We have to think and use our minds. We have to make something that tells the truth in an executionally brilliant and honest way so people care, like, want to learn more.

That's our job.

Most agencies, including Ogilvy which was once-great and was for 12-years my home, publishes an about section that looks like the puke above.

I prefer this. I'd betcha the New Yorker would agree.

No comments: