Are we giving up on intensity?

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Back in 1986, Stephen King wrote about what he believed made for a good advertising idea:

A good advertising idea has to be original enough to stimulate people and draw an intense response from them… Any advertisement is competing not just with other advertisements but also with editorial, programmes, people, events and life itself… if an advertisement is to succeed it has to involve the receiver and entice him into participating actively in whatever is being communicated about the brand”

Ripple dissolve to the present day…

The daily need for new content”

Creating more work for less money”

Stories are superior to ads”

In the whole history of mass advertising, the number of transformative ideas that have created wealth via advertising you can count on one set of fingers and toes”

It’s about delivering relevant content at the right time”

Now of course the media landscape is shifting beneath our feet.

Of course we must think about the new ways we can and must connect people to what we make.

Of course we must work on new stages.

Create new shapes for new spaces.

And new experiences for new kinds of attention.

But when did it happen?

When did we give up on intensity?

When did we decide that trading intensity of response for reach was the great leap forwards for marketing communications?

When did we become so fixated upon production and distribution efficiencies that we stopped asking ourselves what kind of ideas the world needs?

When did we fall out of love with ideas?

When did we mistake borrowing the reach of celebrities (sorry, influencers) and packaging it up in hyper-relevant mediocrity as the great, necessary innovation in marketing communications?

When did we decide we need to bring so little to the table?

When did we decide that a steady stream of assiduously targeted, contextually relevant wallpaper was the way to go?

When did we decide that the measure of success was production efficiencies?

When did we decide that striving for media efficiencies was preferable to striving for behavioral change and real businesses effectiveness?

When did we decide that always having nothing to say was preferable to sometimes actually having something to say?

When did we fall for the siren call of infinite inventory and conclude that we must fill it?

When did quantity become more desirable than quality?

When did we conclude that the essence of our creativity was clever distribution strategies?

When did we give up on the idea that we are in the memory business and opted instead to be in the exposure business?

When did we decide that relevance was to be preferred over the capturing of imaginations?

When did we reduce the implications of marketing’s new-found “physical and mental availability” orthodoxy down to the mere need for reach?

When did we decide to vote for entropy?

When did we decide to erase the first lessons of branding – vividness, coherence, consistency?

When did we decide that the coherence and shape and form of a brand is worth giving up for a million tiny forgettable moments of cost-effective relevance?

Of course the media landscape is shifting beneath our feet.

Of course we must think about the new ways we can and must connect people to what we make.

Of course we must work on new stages.

Create new shapes for new spaces.

And new experiences for new kinds of attention.

But when will we look beyond the narrow horizon of reach and relevance?

When will we stop squeezing the idea out of what we call (without so much as a trace of irony) ‘content’?

When will the flight to quality begin?

When will we embrace intensity again?

Going beyond ourselves

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Art is one of the prime ways we have of opening ourselves and going beyond ourselves. That’s what art is, it’s the product of the human being in the world and imagination, all coming together. The irrepressibility of the life in the works, regardless of the times, the histories, the life stories, it’s like being given the world, its darks and lights. At which point we can go about the darks and lights with our imagination energised.”

Ali Smith

Going beyond ourselves feels like the most urgent necessity for all those in the marketing community. And yet nothing is no guaranteed to shut out the world and close down minds as the institutional and intellectual paraphernalia with which we surround ourselves. Happily some of us are digging tunnels out into the daylight.

What does our talent serve?

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There is a powerful, emotionally-charged moment in The War Room – the great documentary about Bill Clinton’s ’92 presidential campaign – where James Carville, Clinton’s lead strategist, says to the assembled campaign team:

There’s a simple doctrine: Outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing that they can give is their labour.”

Andy Grayson and Graham North have recently written about how the advertising industry is wasting its talent. It’s a provocative piece that holds agencies (their dysfunctions and processes) themselves responsible for that waste.

It’s a good, smart piece, but the broad solutions they offer represent perhaps the smallest end of the problem.  For if we are wasting our talent, it is because of our assumptions as to what that talent serves – to what we devote our labour.

I’d suggest that our industry allows its talents to go to waste because:

It labours under a far too limiting definition of what it does – namely advertising (it also interprets ‘advertising’ far too narrowly, forgetting the origin of the word means to “turn towards’).

It defines itself by output (advertising) not outcome (the building of brands).

It confines itself to a sector that has been static for almost 100 years (since the 1920s, advertising has represented about 1 percent of U.S. GDP) and it ignores all the other aspects of company spending that help build brands.

It chooses to chase ad-shaped problems (invariably pressing and short-term), rather than searching for growth opportunities which brand building can contribute to.

And for the most part it’s still in the business of asset delivery, rather than the building of long-term platforms and systems.

I’m sure there’s stuff that can be done to streamline and modernise how we work (as well as protect the sanity and dignity of our people). But I cannnot help but feel that rethinking our processes is rather pointless if we also don’t think to what end(s). After all, if our labour is sacred, it’s worth spending some time contemplating to what we give it.