Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mad Men 2009

"He not busy being born is busy dying."
Bob Dylan,
"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

Few people would argue that advertising is going through troubled times and that some sort of metamorphoses is necessary for its survival. The specifics of that change, and how it might be successfully implemented, is a reasonable topic for debate. But only the most entrenched and myopic insider would argue to defend the current model of an industry as broken as advertising.

That, however is what seemed to be happening in the pages of Ad Age last week. Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and creative director of an ad agency, Goodby Silverstein, has taken umbrage at the central thesis of a new book by
Bob Garfield, a radio and print journalist, but most famous for being a snarky ad critic for Ad Age. The book, "The Chaos Scenario," posits something that most people reading this (hi mom) probably already know - there is an "historic reordering of media, marketing and commerce triggered by the revolution in digital technology."

Goodby, exhibiting a stunning obliviousness to the seismic shifts happening in how the world communicates and consumes media, published a rebuttal to Garfield:
"Sorry, Bob, Adworld's Not Dying." Goodby pooh-poohs the idea that the almighty :30 broadcast ad is one cough away from flatlining. To be fair, he's not totally blinkered - he admits that the ad and media world are looking a little thin and pale these days. But his prescription for a cure is at best, dodgy, at worst, deluded. He claims salvation is just a matter of pasting advertising's outdated business model onto the Internet and creating "advertising that people like." He goes on to say:

"...I firmly believe we don't want to be advertised to in private, with nothing to discuss around the water cooler. We like the social interaction of enjoying or hating these ham-fisted corporate efforts together,"
Now there's a revealing choice of words. Is "discussion around the water cooler" really a useful measurement of ad effectiveness? Because if I were a brand and the choice for my ad dollars was A). Produce fodder for water cooler conversation, or B.) Create an open communication channel and ongoing dialog with customers who pro-actively seek out my messaging, I'd have to go with the dialog.

The truth is, the current business models for advertising, media, and the music business are indeed dead. But that doesn't mean we eulogize and bury them. They'll be reborn as something new, just not in any form that Goodby is likely to recognize or be comfortable with. As the music industry is discovering, you can spend you last dime going after every 14 year old who file shares (yeah, as if these guys never made and shared mix-tapes in the '80s) but you're not going to stop the practice. It just boggles my mind to think that they'd rather go down protecting their status quo than try to figure out how to transform themselves into something that fits this new world order. Meanwhile, a computer company (one that has definitely found our electronic device G spot) stepped in to fill the void and gave us iTunes - new world order 1.0.

I say, wake up and smell the Twitter. It's not that ..."we don't want to be advertised to in private." We just don't want to be advertised to - full stop. The world is engaging in a global conversation where everyone, if they want to, gets a say. Sure, a ton of it is babble and clap trap, but so is a ton of TV and I still manage to find my way to "Glee", and "Mad Men" and "Weeds". Good stuff has a way of making its presence known. Passive media consumption is over. As is appointment viewing, single channel media distribution, and brand messaging that doesn't invite conversation. Today's consumers expect to be heard. Technology has given them a voice and they like the sound of it.

So, yeah, advertising is dead, but that's the good news. Because the advertising Goodby is talking about, while no doubt, entertaining, can't begin to create the kind of consumer/brand relationship that's found in the interactive context of the Web. And, like it or not, advertising is being reborn as something new.


advertising, Jeff Goodby, Bob Garfield, marketing, brand conversation, digital technology, Twitter, media