October 31, 2011

The Universal & The Transient in Advertising

In any serious field of study there is a healthy tension between what is universal and what is transient. This is true in art, literature, history, architecture, science, and virtually every other discipline.

It would be inconceivable to have a serious contemporary writer who was not familiar with the works of Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, or Shakespeare. It would be unthinkable to have a consequential contemporary artist who wasn't conversant in the contributions of Rembrandt, Picasso, Da Vinci, Monet, and Van Gogh. It is unimaginable that there would be eminent lawyers who didn't know the thinking of Cicero, Jefferson, or Mandela.

Being good at something requires wisdom. And wisdom requires perspective.

One of the reasons advertising is held in such low esteem by the business community is that there is no canon of wisdom. There is just the present. We shallowly pursue the transient at the expense of understanding the universal.

This pursuit is manifest in our anointing an endless stream of "things that will change everything." The literature on these "things" is dismaying and instructive.

Only someone with no wisdom and no perspective about art would have claimed that a new type of sculpture by Calder, as brilliant as it may have been, would "change everything." Influence some things, yes. Change everything, no.

Only blind fools can't see the connections between things. Only nitwits don't see the interrelationships and the evolution in disciplines.

Today, the ad industry is being overrun with people who have no idea what is universal and what is transient in our business. They are not being taught principles, they are being taught tactics.

To them, Bernbach, Ogilvy and Riney are just names of old dead guys. They never heard of Ally & Gargano or Scali, McCabe, Sloves. They have no idea what these people and organizations did, or stood for, or taught us about advertising.

It's our own fault. No one is willing to take the time to learn the history so he can teach it. Our own industry organizations - particularly the 4A's - are prime culprits. By desperately trying to remain "relevant" they have sounded a constant drumbeat about "digital changing everything" that is not only false, it undermines the importance of young peoples' need to learn the history and principles of our trade.

1 comment:

Tedel said...

I am rereading your old posts, Bob. This makes me think about something. What happened to the wisdom in books such as "Tested Advertising Methods" by mm... Caples, I think? Are they not used any more there in the US?