August 27, 2015

Is Our Long Digital Nightmare Coming To An End?

I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the internet than adtech.

It is a plague. It interferes with virtually everything we try to do on the web. It has cheapened and debased advertising. It has helped spawn criminal empires. It is in part responsible for unprecedented fraud and corruption. It has turned marketing executives into clueless baboons. And it is destroying the idea of privacy, one of the backbones of democracy.

And for what? 8 clicks in 10,000 impressions?

But maybe there is hope for those of us who hate adtech.

The era of creepy tracking, maddening pop-ups and auto-play, and horrible banners may be drawing to its rightful conclusion.

According to Doc Searls, one of the smartest guys whose ever made the impenetrable comprehensible, the tide is turning against adtech.

In a recent post on his blog, Doc says Apple's new iOS platform will enable developers to develop apps that allow...
"...much more control over unwanted content than is provided currently by ad and tracking blockers on Web browsers, and does it at the system level, rather than at the browser level."
Doc goes on to say,
"...content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech."
Let's hope Doc is right. There is plenty of room on the web for responsible advertising without the Frankenstein of adtech.

Be sure to read Doc's full piece here.

August 26, 2015

Where Are The Artists?

Today we wander far afield from the mundane world of advertising and dip our toes into the murky waters of education. Yes, today we become The Ed Contrarian.

A couple of recent articles about life on American college campuses have painted a very disturbing picture of 1984-style bullying in which students -- by claiming an ultra-sensitivity to subject matter and opinions which they either don't approve of or don't agree with -- have effectively gotten discussion of these topics barred from campuses and from classrooms.

The first article is called "I'm A Liberal Professor, And My Liberal Students Terrify Me". The thrust of the article is that there is a Stalinist-like atmosphere on campus in which professors have to be very careful about what they say:
"I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers ...being removed from classes after a single student complaint..."
A second article called "The Coddling of the American Mind" appeared in the Atlantic and said... 
"This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
This ethos is a perversion of "liberalism," which is meant to be a philosophy of tolerance. Instead it is nothing more than puerile politics masquerading as personal sensitivity. Just to be clear, this small-mindedness is not limited to one political point of view. 

I am not at all surprised that college faculties and administrators have become hostage to student touchiness. Ever since I went to college a thousand years ago, it was clear to me that faculties are replete with weak-kneed popularity-seekers who pander to the people they're supposed to be educating.

What I want to know is, where are the people who usually stand up to coercive ignoramuses? Where are the artists?

We've always had our Henry Millers, Pablo Picassos and Leo Tolstoys to give the finger to philistines who wanted to dictate what is acceptable.

Why do we hear nothing from the art community about this?

An academic institution is supposed to be a place where controversial ideas are examined, not banned.

If you are too sensitive to hear an unwelcome point of view, you are too delicate to be educated.

August 24, 2015

Advertising Is Becoming Fast Food.

In the beginning, there was the hamburger.

Then God created McDonald's. And the people said, "this is good."

They liked the idea of paying 15¢ for a burger.

But over time, as the fast food hamburger became the norm, the quality of the average hamburger dropped dramatically. It was not economically feasible to offer both a high quality hamburger and a very low price.

We are experiencing the same thing in advertising.

Advertising used to be expensive. Magazines, newspapers, outdoor, TV and radio used to charge advertisers a lot of money for the privilege of annoying their audiences. Now there is an alternative.

The web has made advertising cheap. You can buy ads on websites, on Facebook, on Twitter for fractions of pennies. Okay, maybe handfuls of pennies. But the point is, there is now a low-price alternative to traditional media.

This has not had a positive effect on the quality of advertising.

Agencies once competed for high-priced, talented people to meet the expectations of clients who were spending a lot of money for media. Clients spending fractions of pennies for media don't seem to have the same expectations.

Of course, there has always been a lot of crappy advertising, but I don't think any serious student of advertising would argue with the assertion that the level of creativity in advertising has taken a deep dive in recent years.

The economics of inexpensive online advertising has meant that only a foolish agency would hire high-priced, talented people to write and design banner ads, website copy, and tweets.

As agency work became more trivial, agency talent became more inconsequential.

So agencies started hiring not-so-high-priced, not-so-talented people to do this stuff. And, in the fullness of time, it was inevitable that these people would rise in the ranks in agencies. Those who were hired to write tweets and banners are now writing big brand campaigns.

Happily, we still have some very talented people working in some excellent agencies. But they are the exceptions. For the most part, our industry has seriously diminished its talent pool and our creative work is showing the stress.

Advertising is becoming fast food.