Parker: Let the buyer beware!

Parker: Let the buyer beware!

A senior colleague at my agency is terrified of George Parker. Prior to joining us, he’d worked at an advertising agency that was regularly taking it on the chin, and elsewhere, from this merciless critic of, what he calls, Big Dumb Advertising Agencies, or BDAs.

For those unawares, Mr. Parker runs the wildly popular trade blog, AdScam/The horror! According to Parker, as many as 10,000 of us visit it daily. To put that in perspective, my blog gets close to 400 visitors a day and I’m damn thankful for them.

But ten thousand? Parker does it by offering content that’s unashamedly caustic, critical, profane and, most of the time, deadly accurate. If you don’t agree with me, take it from Ad God, Jeff Goodby who wrote as much in the preface to Parker’s new book, which I have now just completed.

6a00d8341bfa1853ef01116857d7fc970c-75hiThe Ubiquitous Persuaders…

Meant to be an update of Vance Packard’s bestseller, The Hidden Persuaders, Parker manages to do just that and, surprisingly, sans the massive quantities of “piss and vinegar” pouring from his website.

Those familiar with Adscam may be surprised to find not the hard R Parker from his blog, but rather a more professorial version, cleaned-up and, dare I say, erudite. Could we have a Jekyll & Hyde in our midst? Dr. George the learned author. Mr. Parker the fiendish blogger!

After noticing the lack of four-letter words the second thing you’ll notice about the book is how well the man writes. Unlike his ripping and addictive blog, here we find well-crafted arguments fashioned by delightful prose. Sorry, George, but it’s true. You write like the voice of experience you so clearly are.

In a scant 200 or so pages, Parker has captured our business, filleted it, cooked it and served it right back to us… deliciously. He tells us where we’ve been as an industry and shows us where we’re going. I don’t agree with everything Parker writes but part of me wonders whether it’s more that I don’t want to agree with it. His vision of advertising does not suffer Fools and Asses. Unfortunately, it makes a lot of us look like them.

In a way, I think The Ubiquitous Persuaders is the first legitimate textbook on Modern Advertising: its beginning, middle and perhaps end. I’ve read most of the popular texts written about advertising, as has Parker, and yet this one feels definitive…like there’s nothing else left to say.

That is both a compliment to his book and, scarily, an indictment on our indust

Can I get you a drink, Chicago?

Can I get you a drink, Chicago?

A friend called my writing last week on Gods the “Love Boat marathon.” And I suppose it was. As most of you know, I looked at five marvelous but unheralded campaigns from five different Chicago advertising agencies. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the Chicago advertising community. I decided to go another way. I held to the good, as my pastor instructed. (Don’t you love that line?)

Sure, a few cynics made fun and/or took exception with some of my “picks.” That’s inevitable, especially in the blogosphere. Still, the vast majority of readers were pleased by the examination. Online and off, I received many pats on the back for, basically, giving others a pat on the back. Proof positive that good always begets good, even in the supposedly cutthroat world of advertising, perhaps especially in our world.

I’ve written a lot about schadenfreude in advertising, of how we are all so sensitive and paranoid that we actually take pleasure in our peer’s misfortunes: in the lost pitches, laid off colleagues and deposed leaders. I maintain that we advertising folk, always seeking approval, have insecurities so ingrained in our psyches we almost can’t help ourselves. Almost. (BTW, this week I’m writing about the topic on Talent Zoo.)

Lord knows I’m not an angel. As does anyone who knows me! I’ve drunk from the cup of cynicism. I’ve indulged in the forbidden fruit of mean-spiritedness. Yet, I don’t want to be that guy. And neither, I’ll bet, do my peers. The material gains are minimal and the emotional hangovers are nothing short of debilitating.

And so, leaving the past, we try and do the next right thing. And we are successful.

Last year, we pulled together and resurrected the Chicago Creative Club from its very sorry state. No need to rehash all that was wrong with the CCC. (If you must, just search this blog’s archives.) The point is we turned the once-contentious event into a community-building celebration of our town’s creativity.

While there’s still plenty of room for improvement there was also a lot to be proud of. This year’s show can be even better, despite the crippling financial crisis. But only if we hold to the good.

And only if we work together. In this context, praising each other’s work, as opposed to maligning it, seemed like the right thing to do. I hope to do this again soon. And I hope others do as well.

me-before-god-image

Permit me to share some thoughts regarding my first year in the blogosphere. Lessons learned. Mistakes made. That sort of thing.

Last post, I stated that Gods of Advertising is a “must write” for me, even if it’s not a must read for you. Totally true. As a writer (trying to become a better writer), nothing challenges and teaches me more about the craft than maintaining this blog.

Having an audience makes blogging even more of a Godsend. At first, I had only ten or twenty readers (Thanks Mom!) but that number has since swelled to several hundred a day. Hardly anything in the grand scheme but everything to me.

Not to get smarmy, but I owe each one of you a debt of gratitude. Pale Writer. Andy Webb. Van Gould. Jason Fox. All y’all! I don’t believe writers write regardless of audience. Maybe a diarist but even then I suspect he or she fantasizes about a reader. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it…writers are like those proverbial trees.

But, with exposure, you make yourself vulnerable to hatchets! Week one, I got my first lashing from “Anonymous.” Then another. And another. I quickly learned that one’s audience is not always friendly, especially when they’re shooting arrows from afar, under cover, on another blog for example.

Among other things, I was chastised for writing about my agency, the work we were doing and the way we were doing it. I was accused of pimping my novels.

Harsh lessons in humility but useful nonetheless. Though my blog is mine, it is not a My Space page. Tooting one’s horn is almost always a bad move. It’s not that people don’t give a damn, necessarily. It’s more complicated than that. People do care. They care enough to tell you when you’re being self-serving and a moron. Most bloggers become inured to cyber attacks. Some call them cowards and haters. Yet, there are lessons for the receiver as well.

When I blog I ask myself if I’m being useful. Is what I’m writing worth being read? Will it enlighten as well as entertain? I realize a lot of GOA readers are students of advertising, young writers and art directors. They are not here to hate. I owe them my best effort.

If a post receives a thoughtful comment or question, I reply. When I err, I am contrite. If I make light of another agency or its work I do so cautiously and with an even hand. If writing about something melodramatic (agency upheaval, layoffs and the like), I know there but for the grace of God go I.

This is privilege for me. I intend to keep writing. Please keep coming back. And may your God(s) come with you!

“I do think we are our own worst enemies. Creatives are a cynical lot. Shadenfreud is real in our ranks, and not just in Chicago but everywhere. A byproduct of competition and creative insecurity, it always will be.”

Those are my words from last week’s blog. That is my hypotheses. How else do we explain the sensitivity and ruthlessness we so regularly see in our industry? Often these defects of character are on display simultaneously. I’d argue, when are they not?

While no one took umbrage at my statement, at the same time I counted numerous unhealthy recriminations about ad people, places and things on other blogs. You know what I’m talking about: Accusations that a certain creative team lied about their work. Vicious innuendo linking a creative director and a TV producer. A fallen CMO and that infamous gift of Effen vodka. And so on…

Coming up in the creative ranks at Leo Burnett my partner(s) and I had to compete with any number of teams looking for the same outcome: the agency’s recommendation. And then it was the client’s turn to debate and decide. This process was and is a brutal tournament. The odds are almost always against you. Even the best of us lose more than we win.

It’s a humbling journey necessarily fraught with politics.

Maybe the creative director has somehow seen his work rise to the top…again…at the expense of your work…again. It’s called cherry picking.

Maybe the client is predisposed to buying junk work and the agency, craving revenue, is obliged to give it to them. The cheesy “B” team is more than happy to provide. The copywriter has his eye on a new bass boat. The art director wants her kids in the British school. They know pleasing the client equals pleasing bonuses. Your brilliant work is left to rot behind the dead plant in your office.

My favorite culprit: the brilliant presenter who gets the nod even though her work is undeserving. Your campaign is superior but Kimmy is a better dancer. I’ve been on both sides of this one.

These are a few of the challenges facing us in the creative department. There are more. The result is the same. The winner makes ads. The losers go back to their cubes and pretend to respect what just happened to them.

Any wonder we are insecure and act accordingly?

No agency is immune. And neither are any of us. Who hasn’t purposefully given poor marks to a competitor’s work on Adcritic? Or made a snarky comment about this person or that ad in the blogosphere?

Resentments build. They keep us awake at night. We fantasize and conspire. We remember (sometimes falsely) how the other team won. We forget how to lose properly. Losing with integrity is one of the greatest lessons of our business. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to do it.

What’s the point of this discussion? Like a lot of you I’m passionate about my job. Like you, I think I’m pretty good at it. One blog snark said I once ran up the hallway shouting, “My words are my pearls!”

I’m not denying it. But this discussion is about the slimy mollusk, a far more likely discovery. What do you, Gentle Reader think about all this? One things for sure: If I don’t get comments on this post I’m sure they’ll turn up on someone else’s.

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