June 30, 2011

The Law Of Conservation Of Stupidity

One of the most annoying aspects of reading anything written by ancient ad guys like me is our habit of glamorizing the old days of advertising.

Recently I've seen a movie and read a book that have had a lot to say about the silly practice of glorifying the past.

The first, Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris is an entertaining tale about the silliness of romanticizing earlier times. The second, At Home, by Bill Bryson, is a vivid and absorbing history of the past we never learned about in school.

Woody Allen's story is a gentle and playful reminder that the past always seems more attractive to those who didn't have to live through it. Bryson's story is centered on exploring the history of the contemporary idea of the home, but he manages to turn it into a fascinating but sobering description of the harsh realities of former times.

This leads us back to advertising. According to old ad guy legends, apparently there was a time when advertising was just one big party with lots of drinking, lots of screwing, pliant clients who would do whatever they were told, and a lot less stress and aggravation.

I must have been sick that week.

As far as I can tell, advertising was every bit as stressful, every bit as competitive, and every bit as aggravating 20 years ago as it is today. Or 30 years ago, for that matter.

Advertising, like every other enterprise known to man, attracts a few exceptional people and a whole lot of mediocrities. And where mediocrity goes, stupidity is sure to follow.

I spend a whole lot of time here ranting about the stupidity of the advertising and marketing businesses. But the truth is there is no more stupidity today than there ever was. It's just a different kind of stupidity.

Like the law of conservation of energy, stupidity can neither be created nor destroyed -- it can only be transformed from one form to another.

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