Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About A.I., Advertising and Killing Our Planet.

There was an article in the Thanksgiving edition of "The New York Times" by Yvon Chouinard, the founder and former owner of the clothing retailer, Patagonia. The article was titled, "The High Stakes of Low Quality," and you can read it here. 

Before I begin, let me betray a bias.

I don't believe anything made by machine or algorithm is as good as anything made by humans. Since the beginning of humankind, the most fruitful and important work as come from an alignment of heart-->hand-->head. Any upset of that symmetry is necessarily in-human and inferior. 

There are all kinds of things machines can do better than humans. But machines need human intelligence and guidance and oversight to really be useful. A machine can sew a straight, even stitch but can't design a dress, create a pattern or add some flair. Left to consensus or algorithm, we'll soon be living in a Komar and Melamid world, ugly, bland and without truth or soul. 

Just watch TV one night. The shows, the ads or the interstitials. You'll see what happens when only artificial ingredients are used in creation. That ain't good for food, furniture, park benches, art or culture.

Here's how Chouinard begins his op-ed piece:

Over 50 years ago, my wife, Malinda, and I bought a chef’s knife of carbon steel that we still use. It could be passed down to several generations. Compare that to the junk stainless steel ones that might not rust but that won’t hold an edge to cut a tomato.

Cheap products, made poorly and thrown away quickly, are killing people and the planet.

I fear--because I've seen it happening--that junkification is happening even more-so in our industry. We are specializing in (as above) cheap products, made poorly and thrown away quickly.

Truth is truth whether it's a knife, an advertising platform or a television commercial. If it's made badly, it costs too much, no matter how much or how little you pay. And to the MBAs of the world, how cost-efficient it purports to be.

In his essay, Chouinard cites the novelist Terry Pratchett. Pratchett's devised something he calls the "boots theory of socioeconomics." Maybe GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company will co-opt it. You earn that privilege is you work reading smart people into how you make a living. 

Pratchett says,
 some time ago, "A man who could afford $50 had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in 10 years’ time.  While a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent $100 on boots in the same time--[he'd probably have spent $20/pr. five times on five different pairs] and would still have wet feet.”

I think so many agencies are selling and so many clients are buying (and asking for) the advertising equivalent of cheap boots. They don't want to pay for a sound strategy. They don't want to pay for original thoughts. They don't want to intelligence, craft, taste, wit, or endurability.

As a consequence, they pay over and over again, for knives "won’t hold an edge to cut a tomato." Or, excuse me, ads that don't cut through. Or if they do cut through, they say nothing.

I am from a different era, so maybe this is due to some heuristic myopia--whatever that means. But all the taglines I can remember are close to 40 or 30 or 50 or even 100 years old. The enduring lines that defined companies in the minds and hearts of millions are seldom being created or used anymore.

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight was FedEx in the early 80s.

We run the tightest ship in the shipping business was UPS in the 90s. 

Have it your way was by Burger King, created during the Nixon administration.

Apple's Think Different is more than a quarter-of-a-century old.

BMW's The Ultimate Driving Machine is more than half-a-century old.

Even Skittles' Taste the Rainbow is turning 30 this year.

Thinking like this is rare. As rare as the carbon-steel knife Chouinard describes above. But like that knife, it can last generations and like that knife still cut through--tomatoes or indifference.

Chouinard ends his piece this way. "Quality is smart business. Even during economic downturns, people don’t stop spending. In our experience, instead of wanting more, they value better. Consumers should demand — and companies should deliver — products that are more durable, multifunctional and, crucially, socially and environmentally responsible."

Advertising practitioners should likewise create ideas that are more "durable, multifunctional and, crucially, socially and environmentally responsible."

Quality is smart business.

Or could be.


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