It’s A Mad (Men) World
In the past week, the advertising industry has been buzzing about Ian Leslie’s article, “How the Mad Men lost the plot". The article calls advertisers to think differently about our targets, our messaging, and, most emphatically, our infatuation with digital and all things new and shiny. This comes at a time when the industry is seemingly lost. We believe that people are not watching TV, everyone is blocking digital ads, our social posts aren’t getting enough engagement, and digital measurements haunt our dreams. While Leslie refutes each of these as false benchmarks, these fears are rooted deeper than the recent takeover of new-fangled technologies. More broadly, we as advertisers have grown numb and complacent, and have handed our ability to lead culture to anyone who will take it.
Jeff Goodby states in his blog post for The Washington Post in June, “[Advertising] was about doing things that were big and famous and mind-blowing… You could get into a cab and find out, in a mile or two, whether you mattered in life, just by asking the driver…” He goes on to illustrate the blank stares and looks of pity he’s received of late when trying to explain what we do. It doesn’t mean anything to outsiders. Because what we do now is largely driven by the newest ways to deliver our message rather than the message we deliver. This is a tragic mistake. While there is significant creativity in finding innovative ways to deliver information, what made advertising good is its ability to story-tell. A skillset not well suited for digital media, and one that is not as exciting or innovative as, say, putting beer in a billboard.
Granted, the world is changing rapidly, and to be behind the times is death in our industry. People don’t view brands the way they once did. As Leslie states, “your customers are customers of other brands who occasionally buy you.” We’re consuming media at a rapid pace and remembering little of it. Yet jumping on every fad and allowing ourselves to deviate willy-nilly from our core has led us to sit back while other industries and, ultimately our audience, force us into their box.
Advertisers must take back leadership. And the only way to do so is to create good work on our own terms. Our work must be relevant to our culture, but not dictated by it (hell, at its best, it may even redirect culture). The work must be emotional, subjective, and smart. It should be unique, but accessible. It should use the groundwork laid by other industries, without being bound by their thinking.
Don’t just communicate the consumer’s values; communicate what the consumer doesn’t yet know to value. Stop calling your audience the target or consumer and stop referring to their propensity to purchase your product. Speak to humans like humans. Create compelling work and don’t compromise in light of rejection or exhaustion. Know the tools you have available to you. And be aware of new tools that come available to you, without letting the prescribed use put you in a box.
Think bigger. Work harder. Make better work. But hey, what do we know, we’re just Mad Men.
11.19.15 The Biz