May 22, 2012

Realism And Nihilism

I like to think of myself as a realist.

I put little faith in the pronouncements of people with fancy titles or a shirtful of medals. I want to see proof.

Having spent some time on the outskirts of science (I taught science to middle-schoolers for a few years and served one year as Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences) I try to practice rational analysis to the degree possible in advertising. I try to have a healthy regard for the difference between a fact and an opinion.

This leads me to some unorthodox opinions.
  • While I believe social media has been a remarkable worldwide phenomenon, I have seen little evidence that social media marketing is the magic it is purported to be.
  • While I believe in the power of brands, I believe strong brands are best built on product advertising, not branding.
  • While I believe there are times that online advertising can be effective, I believe it has been vastly over-hyped; most of it is invisible; and "interactivity" with online advertising is overwhelmingly a myth.
  • While I believe in the importance of marketing strategy, I believe most people who call themselves marketing strategists are dead weight or flat tires.
Having these and other unpopular opinions, it is no surprise that there are people who find it off-putting and difficult to work with me. I understand this.

But I am not a nihilist. I believe in advertising. I believe in the importance of marketing strategy. And I believe in the primacy of ideas.

What I can't understand is how people in advertising can work for someone who does not believe in these things.

There is an ultra-hip, nihilistic point of view circulating in the agency world these days that asserts that strategy is dead, ideas are dead, and marketing is dead. This point of view has been expressed most recently by the ceo of a very large global ad agency.

I don't understand how you can  be working in a creative department, busting your ass every day to come up with ideas to excite and satisfy your clients, and read in the trades that the ceo of your agency believes that big ideas are worthless.

I have a hard time understanding how you can be spending hours every day searching for  marketing leverage or strategic insight for your clients and hear your boss say that these no longer have relevance.

At best, someone making comments like this is guilty of employing poseur bullshit to grab some headlines. At worst, he is undermining the efforts that his employees put forth on his behalf every day.

Anyone with an open mind can see that the fantasy of the internet killing everything in its path has turned out to be fatuous nonsense. It is two years past its sell-by date.

The buffoonery of the "everything is dead" nihilists has to come to an end. It has become tiresome and destructive. It makes our whole industry look even sillier than it already is. It's time for these people to shut the hell up.

Addendum: The Roll Call Of The Dead
Strategy, Ideas, Marketing, and Management Are Dead: Here 
Television Is Dead: Here
Advertising Is Dead: Here
Ad Campaigns Are Dead: Here
Broadcasting Is Dead: Here
Copywriters Are Dead: Here
Marketing Is Dead: Here

...the commenting system is completely screwed up. To leave or read comments, click on the headline of the post and commenting will magically appear at the bottom.


Chris Seiger said...

Let's start an advertising dead pool. Here's a(n incomplete) list of things that haven't yet been declared dead:

Art Direction
Client shmoozing
Creative Direction
Account Management
Production Arts
Sanctimonious Bullshit

Who's next to die? Any bets? I'm guessing Creative Direction. 


One more for the list:  Nihilism is Dead!

David Burn said...

Kevin "Lovemarks" Roberts is proof of what happens when you become isolated in your corner office. When you no longer make ads, or advise the people in your firm who do, you end up writing books and articles and giving talks that like fairy tales sound good on paper. Same goes for any advertising exec who spends a week or more in Cannes every Spring. When you get to that place in your career, you're not in the business of product advertising any longer, you're in the fantasy business, with the primary fantasy being one's own fame, fortune and continued relevance. 

Steven said...

Bob, you talk sense, mate. 

Ken said...

David, I should point out that Roberts has never made an ad. Never held a Sharpie, never carried a bag. He went straight into Saatchis at the top after coming over from the client side (Pepsi and Lion Breweries). His books and speeches are usually written by his personal PR firm. He's not my cup of tea I'll admit, but this latest "it's all dead" thing is transparently desperate. I suspect that big ideas are currently dead because his network is having trouble cracking one.

Shanghai61 said...

Kevvie exists inside the bubble of his own self-importance. 
"A self-made man in awe of his maker".


David, it's funny you mention Lovemarks.  Seems ironic that Roberts would create something that, in the teenage world, is caused by prolonged and intense sucking. Maybe he sucked so hard his head caved in. 

Jason Fox said...

If Bob didn't already have a good Twitter account, I'd create a fake one for him, too.