November 20, 2014
The Danger In Being Different
In marketing and advertising everyone is faking it.
I mean everyone -- you, me, your boss, your client, Martin Sorrell -- everyone.
Let me be even clearer: Nobody knows a fucking thing about how any of this works. We throw money at it and we cross our fingers.
Having said that, it is also true that there are some people with exceptional instincts. These people are very good at "precision guessing." That is, they are much better at intuiting what is going to work than the average ad bozo.
These are the stars in our industry. While I have met good precision guessers in many disciplines, the best precision guessers I have met in advertising have been creatives.
They hide their exceptional intuition behind the language of marketing -- strategy and benefits and brand personality and all the other bullshit jargon of our trade. But make no mistake about it -- they are cleverly using our language to bamboozle us. They are going on their instincts but employing our ideology and vocabulary to pretend they are one of us.
In other words, they solve the problem viscerally and then reverse engineer a rationale that we can accept.
This is a very good thing. If they told the truth -- that they are just making shit up -- no one would listen to them.
But let's get back to the rest of us for a minute.
If you read yesterday's post, you know that Forrester Research released a report saying that social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter is substantially worthless. This is a conclusion some of us reached years ago.
When I left the agency business, people within agencies were essentially forbidden from saying this. If you did, you were labeled a Luddite, a dinosaur, or just plain stupid. You "didn't get it." It was a one-way ticket out the door.
Advertising is one of the world's trendiest businesses. The consequences of being considered out of step are far more powerful than the satisfaction of finding out you were right five years later.
When nobody knows anything -- like about social media, for example -- you would think that controversial and eccentric opinions would be numerous and welcome. In fact, it is just the opposite.
Ignorance demands conformity. Because everyone knows they are faking it, they seek comfort in the warmth of consensus.
Speaking out against the agreed-upon fantasy is looked upon as both heresy and betrayal. No one is more despised or vilified than the nonbeliever in a tenuous theology.
And so the people who knew better about social media -- the precision guessers -- were coerced into shutting up. Agencies were making money, careers were being built, conferences were being held, clients were demanding more of the magic.
The lesson was clear: When everyone is faking it in unison, there is danger in being different.