Last week’s news that Absolut is shifting its business away from TBWA to Sid Lee, and Honda putting its business up for review after a quarter century partnership with RPA has got me thinking a lot about the nature of the ad business today. Advertising does not exist in a vacuum. It is influenced by pop culture, influenced by the times. Once upon a time, advertising seemed like it was more the influencer than vice versa. But this is true of nearly all aspects of culture, thanks to the singular greatest shift in our collective consciousness, that sadly occurred with the internet.
I say sadly, not because I’m a Luddite, but because of the rise of the curators. Let me start by saying those who you referring to yourselves as curators need a dictionary. That Pinterest board you uploaded a bunch of pictures to is not an act of curating. That Tumblr site where you post other people’s photos and gifs? Still not curating. And you certainly aren’t curating by sifting through a few dozen links on PSFK, NotCot, , Fastco , (the same sites all of us visit) and selecting ones you deem appropriate for your Twitter followers.
You are collecting. Putting something in digital storage on display. Sharing information. But curating is not merely collecting, or sharing or even displaying.
It’s purposefully selecting and looking after stuff, too. Sounds like a small difference perhaps, but one that makes a difference. It’s what separates people who upload stuff on their blog, from people who manage the Louvre.
Here’s my radical thought for the day: No one online is a curator, except perhaps those are in charge of maintaining cloud storage but even that is a loose connection because it presupposed the cloud storage people care about the content being stored. There's no way they could; there's too much of it to matter.
I would also posit that there is nothing to curate online because curation suggests something long-term and our culture has, for better or worse, become one that celebrates the ephemeral, rather than eternal.
A few years ago I saw the complete works of my favorite artist, Kandinski at the Guggenheim. This was curation at its absolute definition. One had to sort through all the works, order them, write essays (or collect other essays written) about the works and their influences, provide pertinent historical background information, provide a larger context. And then step back and have the audacity to try and sum up a life’s work. Quite a bit different from what we’re doing online.
One big reason is because nothing online is made to last. Or let’s say, it is not meant to be revisited in way we used to, when we had hard disks and VCRs and DVD's and CD's. You hear a song on soundcloud, you dig it. How many times do you keep listening?
Gangnam style is the most watched video on youtube in the world. It has countless parodies, each with significantly less hits. But, aside from the parody makers who watched it loads of times to get the movements right, how many times did people watch it? How many people made it all the way through before shifting their attention to watch something else?
Advertising is exactly the same. For every Nike (because Nike is always the exception) there are countless long-term relationships between client and agency being broken. While there are myriad reasons for this (starting usually with a new dumbass CMO wanting to put his greasy fingerprint on the business by doing these easiest thing: firing the agency) I suspect online culture has in no small way had an impact on our lives as well.
There is constant talk of businesses needing a new model in order to thrive with today’s reality. Usually by people who curiously, don't pay for the business to begin with. But in this case, a new business model really is needed for Ad agencies. Not because of a need to adapt to the ever-demanding consumer who despite their power pays less for products and demands more service. It's more because of a need to adapt to an online culture that views long-term as being two weeks, rather than two years. A society of so-called curators who upload and forget, link and disregard, share and not care all that long.
We’ve seen creative work change emphasis from long-term brand-building to the short term starbursts. Despite constant chatter of the importance of a brand communicating with their audience via social media, I am not convinced this does anything for brand building. In other words, people may “feel good,” about Air Canada, but are more people really choosing to fly Air Canada because of a tweet?
It’s been hammered home again and again that a successful online ad is one that goes viral. But like most viruses they die off very quickly. Most online content seems to have the same strategy in mind: Drop an ad on the weekend, and get fifteen million eyeballs on it by Monday.
All well and good on Monday. But what happens on Thursday when the collective group has already forgotten what they saw at the beginning of the week because they’re busy ‘curating’ something else?