December 16, 2009

The Malignant Cumulative Effect of Tiny Misdemeanors

Last week, the 2009 Bully Award for Outstanding Achievement in Advertising and Marketing Bullshit -- the Turd d'Or -- went to the "Breathtaking" Pepsi design document.

It's hard to understand how something like this comes into being, but I think I've figured it out.

I call it "the malignant cumulative effect of tiny misdemeanors."

Baseball provides us a good example. For years baseball players were taking steroids. Everyone who cared to know, knew. The owners knew. The players knew. The league knew. The press knew. The interested public knew. Everyone knew and nobody cared. There was a tacit agreement -- you didn't say it out loud.

Then one day, it changed. Someone said it out loud. Steroid use in baseball became exposed to the clear light of day.  Suddenly, everyone was outraged. The public was shocked. The owners were scandalized. The press was indignant.

It must have mystified the players. Until then, they had probably thought of steroid use as nothing more than a technical misdemeanor that everyone knew about and winked at.

The same happens in business. You make a presentation. You know there's a little piece of it that's bullshit. But it goes well. No one calls you on the bullshit and you see that it makes for a nice pitch.

So next time you embellish it a little. And again, it goes well.

After a while, the bullshit metastasizes. And you keep getting more and more successful. Eventually, you lose track of what's bullshit and what isn't.

Pretty soon you're calling your presentation "Breathtaking." You're talking about "perimeter oscillations" and "emotive forces shap(ing) the gestalt of brand identity" and "brand identity...dimensionalized through motion" and the "establishment of a gravitional pull to shift from a 'transactional' experience to an 'invitational' expression" and you're making preposterous statements about cans of soda and the "relativity of space and time."

And, amazingly, it's still all going great.

Then one day the context changes. Your lovely line of patter appears somewhere it's not supposed to appear. It gets exposed to a new standard of reality.

What seemed brilliant in the cloistered confines of corporate conference rooms is revealed as ludicrous and laughable in the clear light of day.

In tiny, imperceptible increments you have gone from brilliant visionary to preposterous bullshit artist.

No comments: