Thursday, February 8, 2024

Systems Collapse.

Reading my Linked In feed and talking to friends who are also in the industry, I can't help but think about the concept in historiography of "Systems Collapse."

This ain't the kind of thing to talk about on a first date. Unless you're a freshman at Columbia in 1977 and everyone you meet is a budding anarchist looking around the city for discount Molotov cocktails. BOTO. (Buy one, throw one.)

It also ain't a perfect topic for a post. Usually, I try for a little lightheartedness, in general. But somedays I can't grin and bear it.

Between seeing Mark Read spend $319 million on AI systems (surely more than WPP has spent on people since the first wire fucked the first bits of paper and plastic). He's spending that $319 million so he can shit-can $320 million of salaries. Add to that new that private equity has concocted ways to award stock to CEOs and then offer it to them at deflated prices before it hits the markets, and you'll see why I am feeling pretty blue. Add to that the $300+ million fine to be paid by Publicis for promoting opioid use.

That's not a bad week. That's a normal week.

The barbarians aren't at the gate, they're at your dining room table and they're eating all the good bits and farting into the upholstery.

Just in the past 72 hours, I've seen quips like these.

"Recruiters: Everyone is available."

"You make over $250K. You don't have a target on your back. You have a target on your front, your sides, your ass and everywhere else there's you."

And then seeing a temp job at Saatchi NY for major P&G brands where the pay they're offering is $680/day. No benefits.

Back around 270 years ago, after literally centuries of wars, the British Empire was a bit shaky. Rich people in the American colonies realize this and sensed it was time to start a rebellion. People in Iran, Russia, North Korea and god knows where else are probably sensing this sort of thing today about amerika.

It's no wonder a ragtag group of yeoman with 17th century muskets and no arms industry of its own was able to defeat the British.

It's all a little inconceivable that a mouse can kill a lion in hand-to-hand combat. Or whatever it is mice have.

It's always puzzled me.

Then I stumbled upon a fact.

In roughly 1800, the last pay rise given to British sailors had occurred in 1650. Their pay stayed the same for a century and a half. No wonder they had to "impress" troops--forcibly abduct them to serve. No wonder they (sorry for the period racism) had to Shanghai people. Drunk them, clunk them, and abduct them.

In the ad industry, I'd imagine in real dollars, people today earn far less than people did when I entered the business. The location of agencies today and their (lack of) decor speaks to this decay. Most agencies today have the aesthetic charm of a Home Depot in a tier three market.

That brings me around to Systems Collapse.

There are scientific definitions of systems collapse but it was explained to me like this.

When cities first started forming on, say, Crete, a group of people would begin to live near each other. Their concentration and breadth of skills and location led them to prosperity. To keep others out and to protect themselves, they built a wall around their conurbation. 

Of course, more people wanted in. The original settlers said, "Fine. More means more. And we'll all get richer and all be safer." So they spend the money to build more walls. The population grew and the walls expanded to encircle more space and more people.

Eventually, however, the city said "enough is enough. I've got mine and don't want to pay taxes to grow more. I don't want to let others in because that costs me. And I'll do all I can to pay for anything now that I'm rich."

Before long, the protective walls begin to crumble. Leaders can't keep people safe and everything seems to decline.

Here's the above in tattoo length: No pay; all decay.

This is essentially what's happened to what was the ad industry. The people who are rich because of it or through it no longer invest back into it. They don't invest in people. They don't invest in clients. They don't invest in ideas. They don't invest in new ways. And they accept the same cheapness from their clients.

The moguls have their $137 million.

If they pay a writer on one of the world's largest advertisers $680/day, rather than what they paid ten years ago, they'll soon get to having $138 million. 


Or Me-me-me-opia.

That's the schema today. The dominant complacency.

When older ad people get together, the topic quickly turns to "whatever happened to creativity?"

Back to my tattoo.

No pay; all decay.

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