“… [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore,” (though she acknowledged that there are “different skill levels”). - Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO
I could go on and on about how this pathetic attitude dismisses the entire history of human civilization and art, but business school people only understand money. So, in terms they’ll understand:
I could get my brother-in-law (he has a nice camera and takes lots of pictures) to shoot my ads / editorial / etc. But with talent costs, deadlines and one chance to get it right, I will choose to pay a large sum to a professional photographer who has been training most of his/her adult life to pre-empt any possible mistakes, knows details of exposure / light / capturing a moment, and has a proven track record for results. And from a creative perspective (which she obviously doesn’t understand), a “professional” will make it better.
Despite technology’s misguided dream to disintermediate every act of creation, there’s a reason you pay people.
I had one of the most beautiful walks this morning and saw the world as it is for the first time in a long while. On every face, the hopes, dreams, frustrations and insecurities were so obvious. The overwhelming beauty of the human condition set on the backdrop of grand human achievement (Chicago architecture) played out like an art film in front of my eyes.
I miss that. Like so many people, I get trapped in the bullshit of day-to-day existence, my own insecurities and fears, not to mention the panic an fear of so many around me, and lose sight of the beauty all around.
In the last 24 hours, I confronted a tremendous obstacle in front of me, received validation of everything I believe in, then, was able to purge all the shit cluttering my mind. It was the first pure moment I’ve had in an extraordinarily long time.
Damn, it was beautiful. I’d kill to have that feeling for just 10 minutes every day.
Accenture buys design firm, Fjord.
“In order to capitalize on the disruptions being created by digital, and to sustain engagement with consumers, our clients need new services and experiences that are powered by technology, analytics, mobility, and scalable marketing operations,” said Brian Whipple, global managing director of Accenture Interactive, in a statement.
Translation: “Our shit isn’t pretty enough.”
When you’re 18, you think you know everything. When you’re old, you know you know nothing.
I very clearly remember in my youth rolling my eyes whenever I heard an “adult” say “in my day” or “kids these days”. But as you grow older, that feeling naturally begins to set in. You see change through the very limited lens of a 20-30 year range from your teenage innocence to middle-age responsibility. And the limits of that lens often cause longing for “better times”.
Unfortunately, it’s a myth. In 20-30 years, very little has changed besides you. Is it really more crowded? Or do you have less patience for lines? Are the kids louder? Or has your tolerance shrunk? Do people drive worse? Or are your reflexes and eyesight failing you?
John Hegarty of BBH has taken some flack criticizing our industry saying, “our work isn’t as good as it used to be”. Many were quick to conclude he was doing the old man thing, commenting on the difference between his youth and his adult-hood. But I think John may have been trying to make a bigger point.
If you step back from that 20-30 year difference in your own life and look at a broader historical context, you quickly realize the world doesn’t really change that much. Sure, it always seems faster and the tools we use to keep up are different. BUT, the fundamental human motivations are always the same. Civilization has pretty much taken care of the bottom rung or two of Maslow’s hierarchy (at least for the people we’re advertising to), so, what we’re left with is belonging, companionship, validation, etc.
What is a post to social media besides an attempt at validation? How many people liked the photo of your kid? Are people retweeting your joke? How many of your peers are reading your blog?
I believe this is one of the key landmarks for aging. Too many get trapped in the myopic vision of their own 20-30 year maturity cycle and simply long for the good ol’ days. And with the disruptions in technology and advertising happening so quickly, anyone who isn’t a cheerleader for the latest fad from SXSW is looked upon as such. The immediacy of everything forces everyone so much into the now we lose site of the fundamental human motivations that have been true for thousands of years.
Only a handful of people are able step outside of their own experience and see the larger human forces at work. And unfortunately, our business which is more focused on margins than ever before, has eliminated those senior people who were able to guide the next generation to see beyond themselves.
And that, I believe, was the point John was trying to make.
There’s a contradiction brewing which could completely reshape the ad industry, but somehow I feel like I’m the only one who’s noticed it.
With the explosion of social, digital agencies jumped on the “word-of-mouth” bandwagon. Problem is, it was nothing new. Look up the various writings of Ogilvy and Bernbach, for instance. Everyone’s been preaching it for 100 years. So, clients didn’t have a clear choice as to where to assign their social business. Ad agency? Digital agency? PR agency? Specialized “social” agency? Your answer is probably defined by which one you work in.
But then the latest flavor of the month came along, “big data”. Promising to micro-target people at ridiculously granular levels - “single moms with curly hair, who carry a balance on their credit cards and haven’t bought Ritz crackers in the last 6 month,” for instance. (An insane example, but I’m sure it would be a valuable to someone). Let’s call her Sally456A.
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, advertising doesn’t have a creative problem, but it does have a HUGE media problem - fragmentation of attention has made the combo of reach, frequency and efficiency nearly impossible. The budget is effectively flat, but media choices are infinite. So, big data is the hoped-for savior.
If you’ve been paying attention, you see the problem. If the product is amazing, then word of mouth will happen organically. But lets face it, there are VERY few amazing products, and they don’t do a lot of advertising and don’t need people like us. Just get a few of them in the right people’s hands and viola!
Commodity products spend with agencies to create a value proposition/positioning so people will talk about it (And yes, companies should spend more on making their products great vs. coming up with ways to make a mediocre product sound better). But, the micro creative meant for the “big data” targets isn’t capable of generating serious word of mouth. How many people like Sally456A are there? And if we change any one of the factors, we’re now speaking to Sally456B - who sees a different execution as part of a different media buy.
Super Bowl ads that play on a basic human insight that relates to “most of us,” gets the word of mouth around the water cooler Monday morning. Great for word-of-mouth, but not exactly effecient.
But will Sally456A and Sally456B have anything to talk about? And even if they did, would either of them have been one of the 1/100th of a percent who actually clicked thru?
At some point, we’re going to have to make a call. Do you want word of mouth? OR, do you want media efficiency? Not sure anyone can have both. And I think agencies will have to decide which side they specialize.
Just a thought.
Like a lot of people, I think about the problems of our economy and what “growth” (the supposed prescription for the economy) does to our environment. I’m entirely too old to believe in the utopian fantasies of us all living collectively on a kibbutz. And given the natural gravitational pull all civilizations have had towards income/wealth disparity, I don’t have much faith in humanity solving that equation.
But there are a couple fundamental truths/trends, that when lined up correctly, could at least get us to take a step forward.
We must help the bottom 5+ billion people on the planet get to a basic standard of living. I’m obviously not suggesting they get to the standard of living the top 2 billion have now because that would wreck the planet even faster. But I do believe it’s a fundamental moral imperative that the poorest in the world have access to clean drinking water, basic medical care, etc. To do that, they need some sort of job.
The top 2 billion, and I’m really talking about the top 10% of them, consume the vast majority of resources on the planet. Yes, I’m one of them, and so are you if you have electricity and access to the internet. And we simply need to consume less. If you don’t believe that, I’ve already lost you…and you’re probably a selfish asshole. So, there.
There are promising signs the affluent on the planet want to have a smaller footprint. Sure, there will always be some jackass who will build a 20,000 sq ft house, buy a jet bigger than he needs, etc., but it’s encouraging to see the trend among the “liberal” affluent recycling, putting solar panels on their homes, purchasing Prius/Fisker/Tesla’s, trying to buy food in-season in their region, etc.
The problem with affluence isn’t so much the things themselves, it’s the fact that the things are a mode of “keeping score.” If everyone has the $200 model, you need to the $1000 model. It’s in us. It’s in our DNA somehow - maybe 50,000 year old mating rituals or something. Again, I don’t think that’s going to change much in the near term.
However, there’s a way to manipulate that in a moderately simple way. Redefine luxury. Luxury should not be scarcity of some morally / environmentally suspect un-obtainium (fur, diamonds, platinum, etc.) Two months salary isn’t luxury for your bride to be. It’s stupidity that funds wars and child soldiers. If you’re going to spend more money than you have to, at least invest the money in something that gives some benefit back.
Luxury should be about how many jobs the thing created. It should be an affluent person’s snob appeal. “Oh, you have the $500 model, the one built by robots oversees. Mine cost $8,000 because it takes 9 guys in a workshop down the street two weeks to hand build it.” Keeping score and creating jobs.
We spend so much time trying to appeal to our better instincts. I think playing to the base ones might do us more good.
I was able to have dinner and drinks in NYC tonight with friends I worked with a long time ago. It was as if we hadn’t seen each other in weeks vs the years it’d actually been. As we talked, I realized these were people I’d let borrow my car, watch my son, etc. I also realized there are 50-100 people in this category. Almost all of them were from a time long ago.
After the jokes of “getting the band back together”, I had and old man’s wish for better times. The days when you genuinely cared about the people you worked with. I miss the trust, compassion and empathy of those days.
What happened to that? Is it our profit for profits sake culture? Was I just naive and younger? Who knows. But I need to get that back.
Realistically, I only have about 9,000 days left in my life. When you start thinking about it that way, you quickly realize you’re not going to get to everything you hoped you’d do.
So, it’s time. Time to let go of everything I’m holding onto. Time to stop thinking I’ll ever get it back. Time to stop believing in the artificial sense of security. Time to do something that matters (at least to me). Time to run towards something I care about vs running away from things I hate. Time to stop killing myself trying to preserve someone else’s outdated business model. Time to skate to where the puck will be. Time to love what I do again. Time to have fun.
No specifics yet. But it’s definitely time to figure it out.
I’m regularly writing about what’s wrong with the ad biz, clients, etc. But as often as I occasionally think I “nailed it”, I realize there’s something bigger going on I haven’t quite put my finger on. A bigger societal/macro-economic issue driving “management” to do all kinds of stupid shit based on misguided faith in inductive reasoning.
The holding companies keep the consolidation going. The demands to meet unmeetable quarterly numbers are consistently undermining the product we make. Clients unrealistic short-term expectations of what “marketing” can achieve. The “real-time” social response efforts which attempt to compress consideration to a single instant. Etc. All of it conspires against everything we know that builds brand preference over time.
The cold stark reality is that the basis for our entire economic model - growth - is never coming back. It died in the 80s, but the financial market machinations of the 90s gave us a last-ditch (albeit delusional) respite. But none of us want to accept it. We don’t know how. Growth is fundamentally the reason corporations take on debt - “we can grow our way out of it”. But the old methods of taking on debt to build a new manufacturing facility, enhancing distribution, etc. don’t work anymore. The vast majority of products in the world have reached their saturation points in distribution, consumer wallet share (I can’t consume any more Diet Coke than I already do), etc. And sadly, these are the products we’re asked to advertise.
That would be bad enough, but our lack of acceptance of the end of growth, leads many back to a LOT of flawed business school reasoning. I’m terrified by the number of “businessmen” who still wholeheartedly buy into the flawed beliefs of Michael Porter / The Monitor Group. In fact, these beliefs creep into our marketing briefs with unacceptable frequency. Wars over shelf space at retail, exclusive distribution agreements, and “brand positioning”, we’re still tasked with the outdated goals in building sustainable barriers to competition. This has never worked over any significant amount of time, and yet, there they are.
Clients continue to invest in these “sustainable barriers” vs simply making their products better. And who better to tell them what’s wrong with their products than their agencies. We’ve sat through a million focus groups. We know what’s wrong. We’re consistently working around their flaws. We know the emperor has no clothes, but it’s against our business model to tell him.
And it’s not just clients, agency holding companies have wholeheartedly embraced the notion. The belief in talent acquisition, acquisition of digital shops, etc. Mistakenly believing that these acquisitions will create some sort of sustainable barrier against competitors. Problem is, the word sustainable. It can’t be sustained for any amount of time. Human talent (particularly creative) is the most fluid thing in the system. Yet, these beliefs continue and drive ridiculous expectations for growth. In a flat or declining business, four holding companies hold 90% of all marketing dollars, it’s mathematically impossible for all to grow at double digit rates (or any of them for any sustained period of time). They’re taking on debt to make acquisitions mistakenly believing it’ll fuel growth. It’s nothing more than a short-term accounting trick to hide the fact that organic growth is never going back to double-digits. Ever.
Growth is dead. So, we fall back on outdated and flawed business models of acquiring sustainable barriers to competition.
A handful of corporate leaders who’ve seen the writing on the wall (though never speak it’s name in public) have now put their faith in a new false God - innovation. Corporations across the world are investing in their own “innovation labs”. If it were genuine, there might be some sort of hope, but if you look at the mandates for these groups and the products coming out of them (“Oooh, there’s cheese IN the crust.”), you quickly realize that all they’re trying to do is build up short-term barriers to entry for their competition. Nothing more.
There’s not a new idea in here, but it’s one adland seems to have forgotten. We and our clients often get trapped in the bubble and get so lost in the details of product benefits/claims we lose sight of what brands actually are. I’ve written about this before, that simple idea consumers have in their heads when making purchase decisions.
Corporations are sitting on tons of cash, desperate for innovation. But what they’re asking for, and what their agencies are trapped delivering (due to outdated business models) is still just an ad about products. Only when we step back, free ourselves from product claims no consumer will ever remember, dig for the soul of the brand, and ask the questions our clients don’t think to ask, can we actually bring the innovation forward.
I’ve been reminded of this due to a couple recent projects. One took almost nine months to get a client to see that they were so much bigger (and actually more important to their consumers) than their current product. Now, the work about to launch is extraordinary. Another, was due to the simplicity of coming up with ideas once a client got to the soul of their brand - I was walking two blocks with the client and made up three ideas.
More of this, please.