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Is Blogging Dead? was the title of the presentation directly before mine at SXSW. Asking and answering the question was a spritely woman from an aggregator website. I cannot recall her or its name. As I write this, at 35,000 feet, I also cannot access the Internet and provide you with that information. Yet, when I get home I likely won’t do it either. Not because the speaker wasn’t articulate, enthusiastic or charming. She was. But I’ve heard her rhetoric before. Blogging has died a thousand times in the last decade. “Nobody reads them.” I do. “It’s no longer a good marketing tool.” Was it ever?

If you think I took umbrage with her message because I am a passionate blogger you are partly right. But it was her insinuation –shared by countless others- that blogging suffers because it can’t “grow one’s brand” or create “viable revenue streams” that really fired me up.

Maybe if most of these critics were actually writers instead of Internet gurus and professional speech givers they would appreciate blogging like so many others and I do. Blogging does incalculable good for my wellbeing. Measuring it strictly by numbers seems harshly one-dimensional.

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My point in cartoon form, by Hugh Macleod

While I appreciate a growing and loyal audience immensely, I also adore the mental workout blogging provides, regardless of audience size, both in terms of honing my writing skills and expressing myself.

If we are indeed “brands” then mine is a peculiar one. Expressing opinions on advertising, popular culture and miscellaneous is like working out in a mental gym. Joe Blow famously stated, “I write so I will know what I am thinking.” Well, I’m the same way. As a matter of fact I find I often become wiser on a particular issue just by writing about it. Sometimes, I literally change my thinking while addressing a topic. Imagine if other so-called “thought leaders” did the same.

I don’t believe Gidget the Internet Guru had any of this in mind when she harped on blogging. ROI obsession frustrates me. It’s why so many industry leaders come off as geeky pimps. To them, social media, Apps and the like are only as good as their ratings –whatever dubious criteria that’s based on. Which is bullshit.

Don’t misread me. I write for an audience. I do not journal like a college freshman. But exploiting my audience or going off track to get a bigger one is not this blog’s primary purpose. Nor is it mine.

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Yikes. I just realized my last post went up the day after the Super Bowl. In social media time that’s like a million years ago. Lame I know. When I started Gods of Advertising waaaay back during the Bush Administration I made a commitment to posting three times a week and have done so almost without fail. Whether these posts were of equal value is a matter of opinion (I’m guessing not), but in terms of quantity I was generally on top of it.

However, this week sort of fell on my head. Two new business pitches plus an assortment of home front issues have put me behind the eight ball. I beg your pardon.

Friday features back-to-back presentations for different clients, which mean the world to our agency. Therefore, my head space was full up with client-focused issues. I know all of you in Adland feel me. Anyway, as soon as those pitches are delivered I will get back to this labor of love. Hopefully, you will still be here.

Until then…

Status update: “Posing with the Beaver!”

One of the wonders of social media is that it allows us to present only what we want of ourselves to the world. Wrinkles, warts and divorces remain hidden. We put our best face forward and keep ugliness and negativity far from curious eyes. We show only virtues and rarely defects of body and character. Frankly, we are being more than pleasant. We are presenting idealized versions of ourselves: who we aspire to be versus (perhaps) who we really are. Facebook is the textbook example but the myriad other microblogging platforms provide ample camouflage as well. Duh, you say. Why would anyone want to share anything less than bliss in his or her personal life let alone Tweet about it?

The dilemma (if dilemma is even the right word) is that everyone is living a kind of virtual lie and one that grows bigger and deeper with every status update and adorable photograph we upload. Say a gal posts only sugar and spice and everything nice; her idealized self, the woman she hopes to be and wants others to think she is. But what if that same person is, in fact, seriously depressed or even suicidal? Is it a kind of betrayal to her friends and family to be falsely presenting all that positivity? Is it dangerous? On the other hand, is bad news better left unsaid? Does it fall under the category of “too much information?”

Status update: “I ripped Bob’s face off for betraying me!”

I don’t know the answer. After all, I’m just as shiny and happy on Facebook as you are. I post photographs of my adorable children just like you do. I am happy. We are “totally enjoying dinner at Café Louise!” Or I am “so looking forward to Lily’s dance recital tomorrow.” And so on. The bitter argument I had with my spouse last night is never communicated. My disdain for dance recitals is avoided like the plague. God forbid my numerous Facebook “friends” think I have challenges at home or am anything less than a perfect husband or father.

Et tu?

When I scroll through your Facebook pages I rarely see anything but delighted and happy people. Sure, you post snarky comments about this politician or that pop star but when it comes to you and yours you are as positive as a Disney Princess.

Status update: “Gary may be gay but our love will last forever!”

Some people are braver than others: like the man who shares his battle with cancer or the woman who opens up about her struggle to land a job. So, yes, there are plenty of examples of self-disclosure taking place online. Yet, the vast majority of us don’t “go there.” Our Facebook pages are like a fifties-era sitcom. Sis and Johnny love school and sports and going on vacation. Father’s knows best. And mom is always “That Girl!”

I don’t expect any of us will change this “Life is Beautiful!” approach to social networking but I am calling bullshit. Life is messy and complicated. Relationships implode. People get sick and die. Children are maladjusted. In the end shit happens all the time. Just not on Facebook.

I’m not sure if it’s just the people I follow, or if it’s indicative of a wider movement, but I’m receiving less ‘tactical tweets’ and more that are downright fun and interesting. By way of explanation, allow me to backtrack…

When I joined Twitter a few years ago, I quickly amassed a group of people to follow who I thought represented my interests, such as advertising, social media and popular culture. Still, I was skeptical, well aware of the criticism that Twitter was a pedestal for people who had little to say. All around me nonbelievers chided Twitter as a forum for the mundane: “I’m wearing all pink today!” or “My goldfish died ☹” Those people certainly existed. They still do.

But I quickly discovered another type of Tweeter, and while he was the antithesis of mindless chatterbox, unfortunately he was also a bore, just as self-involved as the cat and sweater people. This guy liked links (to case studies, marketing essays, gurus, wonks and even himself) and he liked lists. “Improve your blog in 5 easy steps!” Or: “Top ten reasons your digital strategy will fail.” And so on. For a while, it seemed like everyone on Twitter was trying to be Seth Godin.

At first I assumed this was Twitter, where users were either idiots or gurus. Obviously, I aspired to be the latter, and I began pushing people to those same links, lists and case studies.

Thankfully, with a little help from friends and followers, I stopped doing that. And now it seems so have a lot of people. On any given hour, my Twitter makes me laugh, provides me with valuable information and takes me places I genuinely want to go. Is Twitter right sizing and we along with it? Or is this just a lull between yet another slew of soul crushing SEO links?


The adoration of art history!

Something wonderful happened to me the other day while I was working on a freelance project: I was able to use my modest knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative idea! Yes sir, those classes I took long ago at the University of Wisconsin actually came in handy for work. As a matter of fact, we’ll be using examples from the Renaissance and other important periods in art history not only to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you will in ours. We even use the word chiaroscuro…correctly!

Why does that make me giddy? Because for the entire new century we’ve all obsessed about new media ad nausea, especially those of us in advertising, or whatever the hell we’re calling it. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe more so.

My point is we’re so amped on whatever the new, new thing is we often forget how brilliant certain old things are and how vital. For centuries, paintings and illustrations were the primary visual media available to Man. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those who elected to take it.

Pause here for a second…what we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade into trivia. Whatever wins at Cannes this year will be entirely forgotten in 3 to 5 years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers for our industry and even popular culture but they have no value or meaning beyond a few ad classes and even those are fleeting. Few things are more irrelevant than the 2003 Gunn Report.

Yet, I don’t want to lecture about art versus commerce or the dumbing down of society or anything like that. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to the Art Institute of Chicago in several years, and it’s 5 miles from my house. I stay up late to watch horror movies from Europe. I blog about advertising! For all my alleged culture you’ll find me on the low road often enough. I guess all I’m saying is that it felt pretty good knowing the old masters were still relevant to the creative process, mine anyway.

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