300

I found myself watching the movie 300. Again. Have you seen it? You should. Redemption, revenge and freedom. We are taught to be careful about the first two. And to passively appreciate the third. Civilization, I suppose. But King Leonidas would suffer no one to protect his freedom.

And so a fantasy, which, as many do, must start grimly…

The fields of Adland may be fertile for some, but many of us are bound to servitude. We make content. Blunting our God given skills at copywriting and design in order to fashion “tool kits” for unappreciative and faceless entities posing as marketing oracles. But they are demons. Takers. Deceivers. “Gives us weapons for our sales force!” they demand. For pittances our task masters yield to them, turning to us with expectations as sharp as dragon steel. Not wanting to be thrown outside the gates, we bend into our computers and render slide after slide after. All these good sons and daughters strapped to machines forging power(less)point presentations to satiate a box checker, who’s only mandate is to appease his own pitiless master. And so is weaved the self-fulfilling prophesy of sorrows. For no one in this chain will ever see the freedom true creativity can bring.

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“This is madness!” we whisper to ourselves, and those closest to us on the wheel. Speak up and you may not be heard from again.

Oh, to be the brave Leonidas. To say back: “This is not creative!” Then to kick the stunned whip holders into the pit.

Can any creative deny herself this fantasy of being a great deliverer? It’s in our DNA. We want to make things that make things happen. To be able to point to our creations with pride of ownership – not to bow our heads with apologies and excuses. When our children ask what we do we want to show them. Answer with proof not jargon.

That film. This poster. Those bright, shiny objects that shape popular culture.

But the wheel needs turning. Seven days a week sometimes. The false oracles threaten our bosses turning them into cowards and monsters. Fear ripples down. Dripping into a sweatshop. The chain of sorrows has no give.

Or does it? I have seen creative Utopia. There, enthusiasm reigns over fear. Ideas command respect and are worshiped for their amazing powers. I have harvested fruits from these fields and will do so again. I hope all of us do.

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What are they looking for? It’s obvious…

There’s a simple and obvious reason why so many people are constantly checking their smart phones. Two reasons actually. Yet, I’ve not seen or read or heard anyone use either one to explain (their) behavior. But that doesn’t make my hypothesis any less debatable. On the contrary, the silence supports it. I think people are embarrassed to admit to one or the other reason. Why? Because they point to our vanity and that makes us uncomfortable.

The two reasons: 1. We don’t want to miss the girl or the boy or the party. 2. We don’t want to miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

Though based on intuition I’m 98% certain that variations on the above two reasons are why so many of us can’t stop checking our smart phones. Girls are waiting for that cute guy to call. Boys are scoping where tonight’s action is. And both sexes like to think a new opportunity awaits them (a job perhaps) in the very next email.

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Anticipating special delivery…

Beneath vanity lies the human instinct for getting something be it sex, money or some other thrilling surprise. Obviously, this desire is older than smart phones. As a boy I can remember running to the mailbox when I heard the mailman walking up our steps. Whether I was waiting for the latest issue of Fishing Facts magazine, The Incredible Hulk or a note from the girl I met at summer camp it didn’t matter. I wanted my thing. Even if I didn’t know what it was. The anticipation was always there. (By the way, anticipation usually far exceeds reality -a lesson I did not learn until much later in life.)

Marketers have wisely and often cravenly taken advantage of our instinctual cravings. Fanning the flames of desire to elicit a purchase or behavior is fundamental to our business. The marketers that understand how to exploit it properly are the ones that thrive. This is why there is so much hype around capitalizing on smart phones. Marketers know people can’t stop checking them in the vainglorious hope something sexy awaits. Ergo if advertisers can tap into that they win. Alas, their spam rarely fits into this paradigm. It gets in the way. Yet, advertisers will keep trying because people keep checking.

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“Let’s check our phones! Let’s not!”

Let me finish by returning to my original hypothesis. If correct, the insight leads to even more interesting ones. For instance, it explains why young people are far more tied to their smart phones than older people. The pat explanation holds that seniors aren’t as tech literate or modern as twenty-somethings and therefore less savvy. But maybe it’s just that older folks aren’t craving hookups and headhunters. Could this mean oldsters are more apt to respond to marketers because their expectations are more grounded?

Getting underneath human behavior is one of the cooler aspects of our jobs in Adland, and life in general. It also puts a premium on intuition versus data.


“We’re digital and you’re not!”

With equal parts frustration and delight, I read Andrew McMains’ article in Adweek about the preponderance of digital-only shops and their growing irrelevance to marketers.

Say what?

For the last ten or fifteen years, advertising agencies have obsessed over digital capabilities, devoting umpteen resources on building and/or purchasing the capability.

Meantime, countless digital shops sprang up, pimping their digital superiority in the marketplace.

Then the agencies started buying the digital shops.

And now it appears those same digital shops are trying to build their own advertising capability.

Once again, I am reminded of the famous Doctor Seuss fable, The Sneetches. In the story, the vain but insecure Sneetches keep placing, removing and replacing stars on their bellies, based on an irrational fear of being, for lack of a better word, uncool. By the end of the story no one in Sneetchland has a clue what is cool anymore.

Substitute the word ‘star’ for ‘digital’ and Sneetches for Agencies and it’s the same story. Yet, the saga ends well for the Sneetches. While it was a painful experience, they eventually come to their senses. Sneetchland is best served by having both. Just like Adland.

As I said: delightfully frustrating.


Note to agencies: We are not alone

For the last few years our agency’s worldwide mandate has been to “put digital at the core” of everything we do. This means exactly what you think it means. Instead of putting digital in a “bucket” or “silo,” and treating it as one of many marketing services, Euro RSCG revolves the company’s universe around it. And within that scheme, we (the employees) have been strongly encouraged to “get social” or get out of town! These directives are elemental to the agency’s primary purpose of “getting us and our clients to the future first.”

A couple weeks back, JWT named its Worldwide Digital Director, David Eastman, North American CEO. Worldwide CEO, Bob Jeffries indicated that this sent a strong message (to clients and competitors) about what direction the agency was going, and that JWT was serious about putting digital at the center of business operations.

As I write this, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago rehired digital ECD, David Hernandez from Tribal DDB. He’ll “provide digital creative leadership across all agency disciplines,” said Joe Sciarrotta, Chief Creative Officer of the agency.

And so it goes, by hook or by crook, ad agencies everywhere are finding ways to make digital their big story: on our creds, in our case studies, in general. Whether this is done via purchase or through internal machinations or both it is getting done. Some of us are doing it faster and better than others. But it’s a crowded field. And the race is far from over.

My point is not to ridicule this any of this. I wholeheartedly support it. What I find interesting is Ad Land’s belief that this is a media centric phenomenon, that the migration of marketing to digital platforms is somehow unique to our industry.

Everyone is putting digital front and center. Be it media, education, insurance, institution, government, finance, retail, CPG, the dry cleaners up the street. One is hard pressed to find any operation that isn’t doing business online, let alone marketing it that way. Some die trying (Pets.com). Some flourish (Amazon). Most are somewhere in between.

One has already heard the call that consumers are taking over the message. Ad Land’s first reaction was just that: a reaction. Born of fear. That somehow we –the creators and drivers of all consumerism- woke up one day and discovered a new landscape, and one where we weren’t needed anymore. That fear drove us to buy, hire and promote digital expertise with breathless abandon. To play catch up if you will.

But is the fear real? No more than it is for any other business. The only difference is somehow we deemed it our mission to re-take that landscape. Or perish. Perhaps we doth protest too much. By overly stating how important digital is to our operations, we demonstrate fear of being left behind.

I’ve said it before: We are all pioneers. The landscape is free country and has been since Al Gore invented it. We need only apply our vast skills (ideation, creation, brand management and so on) in the same direction as everyone else.

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Screens, screens, everywhere a screen…

What’s the end game to all this?

By “this” I mean integration, convergence and social media. By this I mean the explosion of Twitter, Facebook and You Tube and the implosion of newspapers, magazines, and books. We now have Iphones, Imacs, Ipods and Ipad and I can’t count all the rest. So where’s it all going? What’s the end game?

I’ll give you a hint. In India something called Bubbly is creating a stir. In case you haven’t heard –heard being the operative word- Bubbly is just like Twitter, only users speak words instead of tapping them out. Users listen to words versus reading them. A half million trendsetters in India are using Bubbly today. What about tomorrow…and the next day? I ask again: What’s the end game? Where’s this going?

Need another hint? Fine. This one comes in two parts. 1) The advent of screens. Flat screens. Kindle. Nintendo. Smart phones. Wii. Our world is now revealed to us via screens. 2) The end of print. Newspapers, magazines and books (as we know them) are going extinct. Not if but when. And when may be a lot sooner than we thought.

So…

This is the end game: we (meaning everyone in the world) will stop reading and writing and begin only talking and watching. I’m not here to bemoan it or criticize it or rail against it. I’m just saying it. Most everyone in the world will stop reading and writing. Most everything we do will be done via audio & visuals. Entertainment and communication are leading the way. Education and business are right behind them.

But screens are merely the gateway. With the advent of 3D and holographic technology, even they will go away. It will just be Us projecting to Us.

I’m a reader and a writer, and have been all my life, so don’t assume I’m down with this. But I am getting used to it. We all are. Things like Kindle, Iphone and Bubbly break us in. Books become antiques, heirlooms and decorations. Like the rotary phone, we almost forget they ever existed. This isn’t good news or bad news. It just is.

I understand some of us will never embrace the talking and watching world. Maybe you belong to this group. So what? Like me, you’ll be dead in 50 years. They’ll play a video at your funeral.

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