Monday, November 20, 2023

The Fault. Lies.

I probably shouldn't write this today. Ad Aged is a family blog and what follows is heavy. What's more, it's Monday, Monday of a mattress-sale-week in what used to be the last best hope for humankind, and maybe I should just give it a rest and cease flapping my lips and swiftly become a Swifty. But, I can't help myself. 

As Con Edison used to say at every road excavation site when I was growing up and being kept down during my prison of a childhood, "Dig, We Must." So I dig. I must. (BTW, I wrote a tagline for an earth-despoiling petroleum company once that said, "Dig Deep." Any hardships that accrue to me, I warrant.)

I am reading Adam Nicolson's latest must-read book, "How To Be: Life Lessons from the Early Greeks." There are a lot of ways to live your life, but living your life thinking about your life might be the best way. 

As Socrates said 2500 years ago, "An unexamined life is not worth living." But that's the deal with most people who seem to lurch from one crisis to one trend and onto the next mishap like "oy, we're out of sour cream."

This is heavy, I know, for a blog on advertising but fear not, it will only get worse. As all things do in our entropic universe. I promise, there's a point to all this, and an advertising point to boot. Like most points, however, they take me a few moments to arrive to. That's how it goes.

At the start of Western thought, say 3000 years ago, there was a huge transition point. You can discover this transition--and it's a big one--bigger than switching from OTT viewing to Netflix--just by taking fifteen hours of your leisure time, turning off whatever screen you spend your days anesthetizing yourself with and reading in close succession, two epics. Real epics. Not an epic catch in a CTE-resulting football game between one team that's 2-9 and another that's 3-8, that you simply must see because it beats thinking and living and being in the moment.

The epics are "The Iliad," written around 800 BC and "The Odyssey," written around 650 BC. The transition that happens in those 150 or so years is huge and the topic today, and still going on in ways that affect our lives, our politics and the advertising industry.

Nicolson writes in "How to Be," "Pondering scenes in the Iliad are resolved by divine intervention in over 70 per cent of cases; in the Odyssey, the people themselves decide quite unaided in over 90 per cent of cases."

Holy shit. There it is.

In the pre-modern world, gods guide us. 
In what became the modern world, we guide us.

Shakespeare's Cassius in "Julius Caesar" was still reckoning with this almost 2,500 years after the Iliad and Odyssey. Cassius says,

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, 

When I look at the advertising industry today, and the world today, I see entities that have regressed. We've gone backward from the Odyssey to the Iliad. We blame for the woes of our worlds, woes large and small, giant, external, inscrutable cosmic forces rather than ourselves.

On Thursday, I posted the above on LinkedIn. By this morning, it had gotten 32,000 views and a fair number of comments. Many of those comments blamed the collapse of our industry on external forces. AI. Digital. Holding Company greed. No comments say 'we took our eye off the ball.'

Similarly in amerika, we blame globalization for disruption, or climate change, or darker people in some shape and form. We never go back to Economics 101 and recall those rudimentary lectures we might have slept through on guns and butter. Since the end of WWII, a mere scintilla of time in a cosmic scheme, we've probably spent $500 Trillion (my estimate) on military materiel and weaponry. 

All the problems of our modern world, poverty, disease, lack of education, climate change, crappy roads, even the Knicks not having a great three-point shooter, could have been solved with that $500 trillion. The fault is in ourselves. But no.

In advertising, we've forgotten--almost all of us--what it is that we are supposed to do and for whom we're supposed to do it. So while we're blaming our demise on the four horsemen of the advertising apocalypse, we haven't looked, really, at how to provide clients real thinking and real value. 

I've yet to hear anyone in the industry look at the simple geography of the industry and think. And draw an internal lesson from an external happening.

In 40 years, from the 1980s to today, agencies went from being located on Madison, Park, Lexington and Third, to the east Podunk areas of Manhattan. We're on the fringes because we are of fringe importance. 

We did that.

We are not the first ones CEOs call. And WE did that. We forgot how to be vital and important to CEOs--and to customers. 

We forgot to define. 
We forgot to differentiate.
We forgot how to demonstrate.
We forgot to learn.
We forgot to simplify. 
We forgot kindness.
We forgot the verities of communication established since humans decided to go bipedal. 
We forgot accountability.
We forgot that it costs money to make money.
We forgot honesty.

I could easily give away my secrets here. It would only take a few more sentences. But, no.

Suffice to say, I don't have a meeting or even a phone call with anyone less than a CMO. And usually I have a CEO on the call. I have clients from pre-revenue start-ups to the Fortune 50, who call me before they sneeze because they need what I do and they pay me for it.

I've boiled this down to an acronym or two and that's basically what I sell. At "full-freight."

It ain't external forces that have fucked up the world and our world.

As Cassius said to Antony, as Terry said to Charlie, as I say to you...


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