December 17, 2012

Best of 2012: Realism vs Nihilism

Continuing with our Best of 2012 lazinessfest, here's a piece from May in which the "everything is dead" crowd is taken to task. 

By the way, as of yesterday "101 Contrarian Ideas..." was #2 on Amazon's ad book chart. Only you can get me the big foam finger for Christmas. 

I like to think of myself as a realist.

I put little faith in the pronouncements of people with fancy titles or a shirtful of medals. I like to see proof.

Having spent some time on the outskirts of science (I taught science to middle-schoolers for a few years and served one year as Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences) I try to practice rational analysis to the degree possible in advertising. I try to have a healthy regard for the difference between a fact and an opinion.

This leads me to some unorthodox beliefs.
  • While I believe social media has been a remarkable worldwide phenomenon, I have seen little evidence that social media marketing is the magic it is purported to be.
  • While I believe in the power of brands, I believe strong brands are best built on product advertising, not branding.
  • While I believe there are times that online advertising can be effective, I believe it has been vastly over-hyped; most of it is invisible; and "interactivity" with online advertising is overwhelmingly a delusion.
  • While I believe in the importance of marketing strategy, I believe most people who call themselves marketing strategists are dead weight or flat tires.
Having these and other unpopular opinions, it is no surprise that there are people who find it off-putting and difficult to work with me. I understand this.

But I am not a nihilist. I believe in advertising. I believe in the importance of marketing strategy. And I believe in the primacy of ideas.

What I can't understand is how people in advertising can work for someone who does not believe in these things.

There is an ultra-hip, nihilistic point of view* circulating in the agency world these days that asserts that because of the web -- and particularly, social media -- strategy is dead, ideas are dead, and marketing is dead. This point of view has been expressed most recently by the ceo of a very large global ad agency.

I don't understand how you can  be working in a creative department, busting your ass every day to come up with ideas to excite and satisfy your clients, and read in the trades that the ceo of your agency believes that big ideas are worthless.

I have a hard time understanding how you can be spending hours every day searching for  marketing leverage or strategic insight for your clients and hear your boss say that these no longer have relevance.

At best, someone making comments like this is guilty of poseur bullshit to grab some headlines. At worst, he is undermining the efforts that his employees put forth on his behalf every day.

Anyone with an open mind can see that the fantasy of the internet killing everything in its path has turned out to be fatuous nonsense. That idea is two years past its sell-by date.

The buffoonery of the "everything is dead" nihilists has to come to an end. It has become tiresome and destructive. It makes our whole industry look even sillier than it already is. It's time for these people to shut the hell up.

* Roll Call Of The Dead
Strategy, Ideas, Marketing, and Management Are Dead: Here 
Television Is Dead: Here
Advertising Is Dead: Here
Ad Campaigns Are Dead: Here
Broadcasting Is Dead: Here
Copywriters Are Dead: Here
Marketing Is Dead: Here


Anonymous said...

Ironically Bob, I think all of your ideas above are being adopted as the new big thing by planners everywhere.
"The idea that your consumers love your brand and want to have a relationship with you" dead.

Wonder how long it will take for this trend to continue and then be forgotten about when the next shiny geotagging/mobile/instagramHD/FacebookAnywhere platform comes along..

Aaron Straka said...

Love this. As a young one, this is nice to hear. I appreciate this kind of realistic thinking. Nice!

Anonymous said...

Our agency shift has been to table any compensation until we move the needle via social media, branding or sponsored events.

Clients need to hold their agency accounts to a standard that is even above themselves....the ability to sell and to show "why" something sold.