December 10, 2019

The Annual Invisible Advertising Awards

It's holiday season which means it's time to give awards for the "_______ of the Year"

Every advertising and marketing organization, publication, and media interest group is giving awards to The Real Time Online Digital Media Analyst Of The Year, as well as other heroic marketing and advertising practitioners. Since it's also a year that ends in a 9, they're also giving awards to The Same Truckload Of Brilliant Geniuses Of The Decade.

I would like to start a new way to think about awards. I would like to recognize an ignored and underserved minority -- the invisibles.

My thinking goes like this. Having spent hundreds of years in the advertising business, there is no doubt in my mind that the advertising and marketing industries generate far more bad ideas that never get produced than good ideas that get produced. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes in an agency will agree with me.

This is why we have creative directors, account managers, and CMOs. Someone has to separate the wheat from the shit.

As a former creative director, I would estimate that for every ad I approved I turned down at least 10 (I'm sure some of my former colleagues will get a good hearty chuckle from that estimate, but for the sake of this essay, and in the spirit of the Holiday Season, let's assume I wasn't quite as big a prick as they might claim.)

The point I'm trying to make is that if the ratio of bad to good is somewhere near ten to one, there is a very large gap in our appreciation of the importance of saying no.

We celebrate the people who create good ideas, but we do not celebrate the people with the good sense to shit-can the bad ones. And yet, bad ideas may have as much potential to do harm as good ones have to do good.

Some valuable activities are highly visible -- like the creation of a wonderful ad idea, or a brilliant media idea. But other valuable activities are invisible -- like the rejection of dumb ones.

Imagine if someone at Pepsi had quietly said no to the Kendall Jenner monstrosity of a few years ago. That person would have invisibly delivered an enormous benefit to Pepsi, but she would never have been recognized for it. Imagine if someone at Peloton had the sense to say no to their dumbass spot. The invisible person would never be known, no less win an award, but would have contributed mightily.

So let's just take a minute to thank all the brilliant, creative, brave, and invisible people who, in the face of often strident and self-righteous opposition, had the good sense and balls to say no to stupid fucking ideas.

Then, of course, there is the other kind of invisible excellence. It is the wonderful work of highly talented people that does not get approved.

Among the ranks of the aforementioned creative directors, account managers, and CMOs there is no shortage of imbeciles. As anyone who has ever worked in business is surely aware, a highly-placed idiot can kill or cripple the excellent work of dozens of people. 

A good deal of excellent, award-worthy work gets killed every year by the arbitrary stupidity of dimwits. (Once again, I'm sure some of my former colleagues are getting a good hearty chuckle from that but, again for the sake of this essay, and in the spirit of the Holiday Season, let's assume I wasn't quite as big a moron as they might claim.) The result is that there appears to be a much smaller pool of excellent ideas than there actually is. 

I think there's a term for this called "survival bias." In other words, we believe there isn't much excellent work being done because only a fraction of it survives. The excellent work that gets killed or mutilated is invisible.

Imagine all the good ideas for Pepsi that must have died so that Kendall Jenner could live.

It is my belief that the invisible marketing and advertising contributions are at least as important to our industry as the visible contributions. The only problem is, well, they're invisible.

So to all the talented, sensible, and invisible people who contributed to our industry this year by saving us from bad ideas, and to the creatively excellent people with wonderful ideas that suffered ignominious invisibility at the hands of nitwits, thank you.

This column is your award.

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