Friday, March 22, 2024

Culturally Relevant.

I remember when I heard about Pacific islanders in the small, isolated coral islands thousands of miles from elsewhere and how they developed cargo cults.

It's reputed that American military planes--after abandoning and exfoliating the islands after World War II--had to drop huge amounts of food and other supplies to keep the indigenous population alive. The residents of the islands, not really understanding the provenance of "food from the sky," began worshipping this cargo. It's said they developed a cargo cult and prayed to un-seen forces from beyond.

I'm reminded of that because of a couple sentence I just read in Agency Spy--a conduit for advertising agency press releases. Agency Spy as an editorial organ doesn't comment on things, they have no judgment, scrutiny, investigative sensibility or honesty. They just print tripe--no matter how self-serving and self-promotional it is. All they do, in fact, is print what agencies and clients want printed. I suppose in return for advertising dollars. They're what passes for journalism in advertising.

Here's the bit I read:

This has nothing to do with either Naked Juice or their new agency Fig and everything to do with the industry drinking something other than Naked juice, that is Kool-Aid.

Kool-Aid glass one: "identifying the brand as culturally relevant..."

Can someone, anyone please tell me what this means? Culturally relevant juice? I'm not trying to be hard-headed, I literally can make no sense of this Cult of Culture. In fact, I'm 66-years-old, I remember in 1967 when I was just nine, four teams were fighting it out for the American League pennant--the eventual winners, the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Tigers and the Twins. 


Carl Yastrzemski was on his way to winning the Triple Crown and a local baker--Arnold (not the ad agency) came out with Yaz Bread. That was the last time I cared about cultural relevance and a packaged good. 57 years ago.

The second glass of Kool-Aid is even bittererer: "articulating the role Naked plays in consumers' lives."

I like a nice glass of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. I mix it with seltzer (cutting down on my sugar intake) and pour it over ice. I do the same with genuine lemonade--tart, no sugar. When I'm in LA, or the Caribbean, not much beats a nice pulpy glass of fresh juice. Like I said, juice is something I really enjoy.

But juice is not part of my life.

My wife is. 

My kids are.

My son-in-law. My grandson. My puppy, Sparkle.

My friends. My cousin Howard.

My baseball hats.

The 5,000 books I've acquired over the years and 1,000 movies on DVD. 

My 1966 Simca 1500, with a 2.8-liter BMW straight-six.

My writing is part of my life.

My apartment in New York within spitting distance of the East River and my small cottage in Connecticut within spitting distance of the turbid Long Island Sound.

Even this dopey blog and my 83,000 weekly readers are part of my life.

But juice--one particular brand of juice in a world of 279 different juice brands? No.

Not part of my life.

Not even close.

Maybe one of the reasons advertising today sucks so bad is that we're so consumed with out own pomposity. 

We put the self-importance in self-importance.

We think we can make brands culturally relevant like Taylor Swift is or become part of people's lives like a stent or a pacemaker. 

I think the idea that we're part of a conversation--that people are having conversations about brands is so much solipsistic bushwa. The notion that we can make a candy bar or a tupperware container or a tool to clean our gutters a part of peoples' lives is beyond arrogance and beyond pomposity. It's as convoluted and esoteric as a PhD thesis. 

Here's what advertising can do:

We can hand people a laugh. Or a memory. Or a moment. Or an idea.

We can implant something if we're working for a client willing to be a) consistent for decades and b) spend a lot of money for decades. 

Even then, I'm 99.9-percent sure we're not creating cultural relevance or resonance.

Sure, on a rare occasion we can get lucky and get viral with some stupid human trick like pouring ice-water over our heads or dropping our drawers in public or making a bank out of baked ziti or licorice or ginger bread. But those things are mere sneeze droplets on the radar screen of life, not something engraved or permanent like Hadrian's Wall.

Sorry, Naked.

Sorry, ad industry.

Even Yaz, whose stat line in 1967 was pretty immortal, guess what? No one knows who he is anymore.

Now imagine he were a Brillo pad.

Not an Andy Warhol one. 

Just a rusting square of food-stained and soapless steel wool.

End of conversation.

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