March 04, 2013

What's Everyone So Afraid Of?

I am sometimes approached by editors of advertising or media publications to write pieces for them. In the course of trying to convince me to contribute tendentious pieces to their publications (and not get paid), invariably the following sentence is uttered:

"We're so tired of all the bullshit"

Often when I attend a conference and one of those gee-whiz presentations about the latest online advertising magic is made, people will later approach me at the bar and whisper "what a bunch of bullshit." (By the way, I'm at the bar because that's where they keep the pretzels.)

One recent morning I was having coffee with a person who manages media and marketing conferences and he told me that the biggest problem he has in creating interesting programs is that every presenter wants to be the futurist guru who talks about whatever the hype-cycle miracle of the week is, and all the other speakers are too chicken to challenge.

What I want to know is, what's everybody in advertising so fucking afraid of? Why won't people say what they really think? Even after 10 years of totally erroneous "everything is dead" nonsense, are we still too timid to defend our business and stand up to these buffoons?

Why do publishers keep publishing "all the bullshit" if they're so tired of it?

Why will people only call bullshit in whispered tones in the dim confines of the hotel bar?

Why won't speakers get up and speak their minds?

There is a kind of creeping, low-grade McCarthyism in the advertising world. Everyone's afraid to challenge the loudmouths. "Thought leaders" go from conference to conference being dead-wrong, and everyone is so terrified of being thought odd or old-fashioned that they refuse to speak up.

The ad industry is becoming stinkier and stinkier. And I don't know what smells worse, the bullshit or the chicken shit.


Anonymous said...

Everyone is afraid to comment.

Twice burned said...

Calling the emperor naked is a luxury afforded only to those who are working in advertising for fun and not reliant on the paycheck.

Gary said...

"Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que
je na'i pas eu le losir de la faire plus courte."

It's like speaking FRENCH.
Sounds INTELLIGENT, merely because most are not
equipped enough to challenge you.

If someone ever does, you may win the battle,
but lose the war (nee account).

"Able was I ere I saw Elba"

Anonymous said...

I think people are afraid to speak up for two reasons:

1. Having a different opinion will expose you and the majority will challenge you and very likely not even agree with you.

2. The risk of being "wrong". So it's more comfortable to stick with the bullshit and keep nodding to more bullshit built up on bullshit. Because it's the safe way to go.

After all I think being afraid, pointing out bullshit and voicing your own different opinion is a problem across several industries, not only the advertising industry.

simon billing said...

This is a piece from today’s The Globe And Mail (Canada’s national journal of record. Can you tell they were once my client?)

Somewhat tangential to your point on advertising, it’s about the current obsession in all fields of business and politics with ‘big data’ and its supposed potential to “change/revolutionise/predict everything that ever will be.” Or so the gurus and consultants would like us to believe so that we can pay exorbitant sums to be in on the latest grand secrets of the fucking universe.

The ‘orrible truth is 99% of folk in every field are followers who will never even consider sticking their heads above the parapet. The 1% comprise the Jobs and Bransons, the H. Fords and the Bernbachs all of whom I suspect would throw gurus and consultants out of high windows before listening to a word of their bullshit

And yes I have no empirical data whatever to back the above statistic. But it is of course 100% accurate

Anonymous said...

I think we all attend conferences "hoping" we'll actually learn something new.
However, we end up validating what we already know. And that's done talking to like-minded folks in the bar.

Rob Hatfield said...

The chicken shit smells worse.

Chris S. said...

This is a case of advertising getting a taste of its own medicine. Once, we were the mere purveyors of snake oil.

Unfortunately, karma is a bitch. We are now the #1 consumer of snake oil, and are addicted to "all-natural, holistically curated snake oil content."

There's probably a joke about shit not stinking here, but I'm too depressed to actually think of it.

Miles Newlyn said...

I always try to omit all bullshit from my conference presentations. I'm not a natural speaker though, so take it or leave it.

David said...

It's always been this way. I remember going to an Ad Age conference 25 years ago and listening to Sean Fitzpatrick tell us that the future was going to be five- or even two-second spots. I think he called them "blipverts." Don't recall seeing too many of them recently.

Gavin Wassung said...

what if we stop going to conferences...and especially avoid the bs at award shows?

Anonymous said...

good suggestion

Poboy said...

Also challenging any new digital idea, however stupid, like the QR code, makes you look old and stubborn. The last thing you want in our Logan's Run of an industry.

Unknown said...

It's not that people are afraid of being thought odd or old-fashioned. It's that you just don't know where that "thought leader" is going to end up next, and it might just be somewhere where they control the budget you're trying to win part of. As you know - the ad business is pretty insular and most of the executive positions are the same guys moving from buy-side to sell-side to tech vendor and back again.

In other words - while it might benefit the industry tremendously to call it like it is, there's just no personal upside in being the first guy to do it.

Tom Parrett said...

It's not just advertising, it's the whole media world. "Magazines are dead." "Newspapers are dead." "Book publishing is dead."  These self-serving oracles might as well come right out with it and say, "Reading is dead."

Oh, yeah, they did say that.

There are two kinds of futurists: hucksters, who mainly peddle fear, and visionaries. The latter are usually too busy creating the future to attend conferences — which are, after all, almost entirely about recognizing a visionary, so you can glom onto one and become a vendor.  

Kevin Duncan said...

Too true. For a comprehensive review of all related bullshit, have a look at