Why is that 99% of TV shows about advertising make us look like evil geniuses or total idiots (and often both in the space of a few seconds)? The Persuaders, an episode of the excellent 'Frontline' on PBS last night, was no different. Despite the intelligence and common sense provided by Douglas Atkin and Paul Woolmington, my overall take-out was one of embarrassment.
Andy Spade's presentation to Song made me want to either laugh or bury my head in the sand, and Kevin Roberts made me once again want to leave the industry I love (he first managed this when I read his recently published book 'Lovemarks' ). They both reminded me of the surreal meeting I once had with a brand manager who tried to convince his agency that the benefit of his soap powder was that it enabled creativity in children.
The most thought provoking piece to me was Douglas Rushkoff's description of the vicious circle that brands find themselves in - the more clutter we produce, the more clutter we feel we have to produce in order to break through the clutter we produced. This made me think about two things.
First, we need to stop the madness of producing communication plans that are predicated on 'surrounding the consumer'. Rather than producing 360 degree, surround sound plans we need to focus on building a dialog with people in the three degrees of their lives where the brand is, or may be, most relevant. We need to start from the premise that communication, and advertising in particular, is an intrusion in people's daily lives. Rather than producing more and more wallpaper (often with eyesore patterns) we need to think about how we can, as my old boss used to say, reward the consumer with a gift for taking some of their valuable time.
Second, the brands that will be successful going forward will, in my opinion, be those that are built on truthful, more humble foundations. People know that soap powder will not make their children more creative, or that an IRA will make them go 'Wow!'
If we don't, as a collective industry, quickly acknowledge these two basic truths then we will deserve the derision and scorn of those outside the industry. We need to get back to basics and simplify not complicate. We need to be humble about the role that brands can really play. We need to stop believing that more noise is good - it isn't; it's pollution.
If we don't acknowledge the problems we have created for ourselves then we will no longer be able to ask for people to donate to us some of the scarcest resources there are in the world - their attention, trust and respect. And with the death of this will come the death of brands and all the economic and social value and good they can create.