The Suits Must Die - An Adland Exclusive Breakthrough Opus

 
 

The Suits Must Die - An Adland Exclusive Breakthrough Opus

The Suits Must Die.

The advertising industry at a dead end.

Greg Stene, Ph.D.

Mass Communication

Idaho State University

Pocatello, ID 83209

208.282.4539

getting ...

Forward

There's a war going on in the advertising industry.

The suits against the creatives.

It's a war that's been going on for years. But the suits seem to have launched a quiet offensive over the recent years. The suits, the account executives, agency owners, marketing directors ... even clients ... over the years, they've been trying to move the business and social understanding of advertising into something of a science. And the suits are winning, folks. Which means that the creatives (the copywriters and art directors) are increasingly being controlled by what the research numbers say. We're moving away from the act of communicating in advertising, to making advertising that meets marketing goals. And we're all going to have to put up with a lot more bad advertising assaulting all of us because of it.

A lot of the advertising coming at you these days is run-of-the-mill. Stuff you want to run from. If you were teaching it, you'd discover that the introduction text books generally have little to say about the creative endeavor, or the fact that advertising is a process of communication. Instead, they fill the students' minds with visions of market segmentation; recall, recognition, and attitude testing; and the typical marketer's diarrhetic output of charts and graphs which turn human behavior into nothing more than a mechanical plug-n-play system, with not a thought about what's going on inside the buyer's head.

Concepts and the creative people who bring them to life are increasingly assaulted and marginalized with testing techniques that even the suits acknowledge are questionable. Clients demand accountability for the dollars they're spending, and in the process of trying to be accountable, agencies are paying more attention to the numbers (47% of the people like the ad, plus or minus 4% ... just what the hell does that really mean?) than they are to the people they're trying to communicate with. You. And me.

But we're people. Not numbers. And we don't fit into graphs and charts and the suits in the agencies and the clients who hire them have forgotten that truth.

The war has spread. It's not just between the suits and the creatives in the agency. The damage has spilled out into our society, and each one of us is involved in the advertising coming out of that war. It touches us with the advertising we see when we turn on the TV, open a magazine, or try to hide in the Internet. We're all combatants.

I know communication theory. I worked hard for that Ph.D. in communications that I've got. And I deal in theory that appeals to common sense and leans hard on experience. Doesn't seem to be much of that out there.

This is not rocket science.

Too bad. Because rocket science is a piece of cake compared to understanding the human mind. And doing meaningful advertising. Advertising, in terms of communication, is not a science that can be reduced to numbers.

Take a look at how it plays out in common-sense terms. Meaningful advertising and flying both developed around the same time at the turn of the 20th century. Since those first crazed, fitful hops at Kitty Hawk, we've tossed men and women into space, landed on the moon, successfully lost a space research vehicle just as it was about to probe the glories of Mars, landed another successfully, and we have at least two vehicles pushing their way to the edges of our galaxy.(1)

Now, in contrast and over the same time period, what have we done in advertising that's so damned scientific? Well, we have yet to figure out what motivates a kid to buy a stick of gum. We have yet to figure out the assumed science behind the creativity of an ad. We have yet to figure out why an ad apparently affects someone the day after it has apparently not affected him or her. And we're still not sure what an "effect" really is.

Finally, in this listing of the reasons why some people who study advertising mistakenly believe that the field is a science (these creatures being mostly marketing professionals and scholars whose livelihood depends on shoving numbers at you, because if you're a marketer and can provide your client with numbers, you can "prove" effects; and if you're a scholar and you can call it a science because you've got numbers, you can get research grants), I suggest we take a look at the failure of businesses in this country.

A high percentage of new businesses fail.(2)

Let's think about this for a second. If both business and advertising work scientifically, and if the research has any sort of meaning at all ... it would seem logical that all a new company would have to do is apply certain "scientifically proven-effective" business and advertising principles and it would survive. Even if you've got some greed-head cooking the books, or some idiot who can't keep them.

But a large number of new businesses do go down the toilet. Sucked deep down with that nasty wad of toilet paper. And we can't blame the failures strictly on the part of elements outside of advertising ... say, bad management. Consider how many new products introduced by the major companies like Procter and Gamble(3), who probably have every advertising research data-bit at hand in some computer ... consider how many of these new-product introductions by companies with scientific management expertise at hand fail.

There is no advertising science of any predictable kind going on here. Anyone who says so is just plain horribly mistaken. Or worse.

Sometimes, it will be good to look at the common sense behind an advertising concept. To see what works and what doesn't. Those times will be titled:

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A Question of Common Sense #1:

Intel and Dancing Bears

INTRO:

Intel's(*) 1997 crop of TV spots selling the power of its technology kind of reminded me of that old sideshow/circus attraction ... dancing bears. With the Intel spots, we had spaced-age engineers and technicians dressed in androgynous and anonymous uniforms and head coverings reflecting some pretty-colored lights.

Dancing. To some seriously funky music.

PERSONAL COMMENT:

The first spot in the series had a great tune. Wild Cherry's, "Play that Funky Music, White Boy." But you won't hear that "white boy" part of the tune in the TV spot. None too P.C., I suppose. It's a tune done back in the days of disco madness, where the funk was what mattered and no one slapped a lawsuit against anyone for using the term "white boy" in some music lyrics. There is no racism in that song. Back then, no one seemed to have too much of a problem with this. What the hell's happened to our society that we've got to re-write a disco tune out of P.C. madness, for god's sake?

THE CRITIQUE:

Do dancing, neatly lighted engineers in plastic suits have anything to do (positively or negatively) with the quality of a PC chip?

A while before these ads were aired, Intel was brought up on the public carpet for producing it's new Pentium chip with results which admittedly were not perfect. Ah ... mistake comes up once in a blue moon, paraphrasing Intel. Not a real problem for the average user (and the problem did in fact, appear to be way beyond the concerns of the average user).

But then IBM locked into this and said it actually happened in use a lot more frequently. The sniping and bad attitudes between the heavies continued for a while ... meanwhile, the customers who'd bought the chips with the error problem asked about replacement chips ... Intel stonewalled for a significant length of time, then finally caved in (apparently) to some seriously nasty public relations problems and began replacing the chips for the general user.

Then in May, 1997, there was word about the new Pentium II chip ... that it had a once-in-a-blue-moon flaw.

And shortly after, we have dancing engineers making MMX Pentium chips. Selling fun. Not reliability. Or trust. Go figure.

They sold well, though. Americans, as someone wryly observed, are a people without a history. What happened in the past doesn't matter a whole lot to us. And, it would seem we have little choice in the matter. Intel's got a monopoly on the chip market, anyway. Right?

Well, it seems there are alternatives. One, for example, is the AMD K6 chip series (***). With competition, it'll be interesting to see how long the fun part of computing remains Intel's mainstay in its advertising.

I have nothing against Intel. It's just that as I looked at dancing engineers on my TV screen across the room ... I could only think of dancing circus bears ... and remember the horrorshow in quality concerns a few years ago when the Pentium first came out. If Intel had remembered its own history and let it guide them, these TV spots might not have seen the light of disco madness dancing on their lab uniforms.

LATE DECEMBER, 1997

Ah, you've got to love the marketing whizzos and the American public. It seems, according to the newscast I saw this on, that the American public's response to the multicolored dancing Intel chip makers was so great, that someone has now come out with a doll of them. Go figure.

JUNE, 1998

Four days before launching its new Pentium II Xeon chip, Intel announced that the chip had "errata" under a particular configuration. Simple terms ... under certain conditions, the chip would do something naughty. Intel is not, at this time, saying what that something is.(4) PC Week Online said it was a matter of the machine spontaneously rebooting.(5) It does not appear that the problem is causing anyone any real problems, and Intel says it will have a fix in place soon.

MAY, 2000

Nothing drastic happening at this point in time, other than the fact that AMD has continued to grow and become a major competitor of Intel, and they actually beat Intel by a few days at the public showing of the first 1 gig chip. Now, if only Intel would bring back those dancing clean-room technicians, I'm sure AMD would just fall way back in the competitive environment.

LATE SUMMER, 2000

Intel has the not-so-unique honor of having to recall its new Pentium III 1.13 gigahertz chip for a technical problem which could crash some computing operations.

-------------------------------------------

* All noted Intel, Pentium and MMX are understood to be registered TMs.

** All noted Cyrix is understood to be registered TMs.

*** All noted AMD is understood to be registered TMs.

------------------------------------------

I can't be certain, but I imagine it was a marketing decision to sell the notion of fun and power. Juice up the image of the chip. Push this message down the consumer's throat.

But it's a meaningless message. And works against the idea of reliability.

If they'd considered the human concerns ... the potential for damage caused by bad chips ... if they'd sat down with some users and talked with them about how people view the chips, or don't even see them in their lives ... if they'd considered the idea of the advertising communicating the truth about the chip rather than trying to build a meaningless image of the thing ... they might have realized that the consumer knows something.

Chips are an integral part of our lives, fitting into everything from computers to cars to heart monitoring machines in an ECU. We depend on them. We need to depend on the company that makes what ... 80-90% of the chips in our computers.

Perhaps you creatively sell the idea of security ... trust.

That's a far cry from selling us dancing technicians in shiny clean-room suits. And that's the difference between advertising as a marketing tool, and advertising as a communications process.

Advertising as a communications process depends, in part, on discovering beliefs, impressions, and values people already hold about a product or product category, and communicating with them about those.

An interruption:

This book cannot be a typical take on advertising, with guides of all sort telling people how to do advertising and write glorious headlines. A lot of what I've said won't fit into the mold accepted by others. But damn it, that's exactly why I've said it. This is not a text book, or some how-to-do-it waste of paper. There are tons of texts out there already. What this is instead, is thinking there's something horribly wrong with the textbook way that we're doing things. I'm teaching my advertising classes out of those texts and while the students need to know the conventional way of thinking about this most unconventional business, I cringe sometimes at the stuff I have to talk about.

The old ways just aren't good enough anymore. Reality just is not as real as it used to be. It's time we realized that we've pushed into new territory, new thinking, a whole goddamned new age. People are smarter ... more savvy about advertising and the media, the markets are becoming competitive again, the Internet is going to toss up a tremendous confusion of voices and the smaller players are going to look as good, if not better than the traditional players who currently control the market. People are posting home pages on the Internet bitching literally to the whole world about the quality of products and services.(6) We've got to do something to respond to it all ... something new, even if what we do is way wrong. At least that'll give us an idea of what not to do again.

Is it advertising, or is it art?

Someone once said that the art of the latter half of the twentieth century was to be found in advertising. Don't buy into that too easily. No matter how beautiful, they're still ads. But maybe that's the secret ... we don't find art in advertising ... advertising is our art.

Whichever. The thing is, you're only going to find the real art of the latter twentieth century in maybe one percent of the advertising that's going down. And it's unconscionable that true art in this realm of creativity should be so damned hard to find. But the fact is that the fine art in advertising is a rarity in our lives, and that is an unnatural sin of the highest nature.

Note to the general public:

"I carry two guns, in case I run into the Doublemint twins."

Greg.

This book straight-out violates the expectations and refined traditions you run into when you hear ad or marketing professionals, or the media intellectual darlings talk about advertising. In that sphere, everyone's respectful of each other and accepting even of thoughts and ideas they disagree with. And as a result, they are wholly ineffective when it comes to dealing with reality.

Some of those people are business pros who should know better, but can't manage a creative thought about the work they do. Caught up in charts, graphs, and numbers, and holding to some old ideas because they kind of work. Sort of.

Other voices out there are scholarly. Taking things under advisement. Even the absurd. Because to call someone a rat-bastard for thinking like an idiot is just not the way of things in scholarly circles. Perhaps it should be. Maybe then the scholars'd be a little more responsible for the absurd words and ideas they sling around.

In contrast, I was an ad pro, and I've finished with the journey toward the Ph.D.(7) I find myself in a rather happy nether-world of being relatively well-informed on both the professional and academic end of things, with absolutely no reason to be quiet or respectful in the process of discussion. However, I do feel the need to apologize to those of you who have mistakenly picked up this book, expecting quiet, reasoned thought. What you will find here instead is loud, angry ... reasoned thought.

There is emotion here. Extreme at times. When someone insults me, I get angry, resentful, and wholly disrespectful. When someone makes me laugh, I laugh loudly. When someone impresses me, or makes me think, I hold that in great appreciation. Advertising does all those things to me; it insults, amuses and impresses me. And, in the best of advertising jargon, it does even more. So I write with all those emotions, and even more.

Get fed up.

This book is a call on the advertising communities of this country to improve the quality of the advertising that we, the people, must endure. Because enduring it is exactly what we have to do nearly every minute of our lives.

Advertising's everywhere. Look at your running shoes. Or your ball cap. Or your T-shirt. Or someone else's. Notice how, when you put your underwear on, you look at the brand label to figure out which side's supposed to go behind you and not in front (weird, that we depend on the label, not on the shape of the product to tell us front from back).

All of this is stuff that we all wear. Stuff that turns us into a walking, talking advertisement to other people for the companies that produced the product (I remember a long-lost lover's underwear and her appreciation for them, and the fact that they were Jockey and that I noticed the label every time I slipped them off her; the over-the-hip style when it first came out, and that I remembered the name specifically for future reference ... not that I would buy women's Jockey's to wear, but maybe give her a pair as a gift, you know).

You pay a load for a Nike T-shirt in preference to a non-marketing shirt with no name on it, and you end up advertising Nike every time you wear the shirt. But you don't get paid a dime for it. That's the way it works ... and the strange thing about this is the fact that the human body seems to be the only billboard that doesn't get paid for the advertising it does.

And yet, this body-imaging is probably some of the most effective advertising that can be done. Consider this ... you hang around a group of your friends. You need a pair of cross-trainer athletic shoes (notice they're now no longer simply tennis shoes or sneakers) because you're going to lift weights, and maybe run a bit, and mow the yard in them, so you've gotta have those cross-trainers which are built for a multitude of activities. You've seen the ads for Reebok in the magazines. But you've also seen the Nikes that your friend wears, emblazoned with the Nike "swoosh" on the side.(8) You remember he's bought Nikes ever since you've known him. You don't even need to talk to him about them. He's already told you he likes them. He's shown you the Nike logo every time he wears them; not deliberately , of course, but just as a part of his body image. Reeboks must suck since your friend is wearing Nikes. And keeps buying them. This decision is a no-brainer. You buy Nikes.

Now, some people are going to try to define advertising as a paid form of sending a message, like buying space in a newspaper. You see that kind of definition in almost every text book on the subject.(9) That's idiotic. It's not enough. What your friend has done to your mind with his shoes has sold you more on Nike than any paid TV spot ever will.

But that's just a look at what happens in the real world ... the ever-presence of advertising. I use that fact as justification for one of the calls issued by this book ... if we have to live with advertising everywhere around us ... some people claim we're exposed to 400 ads per day .... we ought to start demanding that it be great work.

This book calls for both the client and the agency to invest more in intelligence, creativity and common sense in producing quality work. The words in this book get brutal at times, but not nearly as brutal as the lack of respect for us consumers and the outright insult that bad advertising really is. So while this book does propose a more reasoned way of looking at the theory behind advertising and how it may become more effective, the final goal of these pages you hold is to make a call for a better advertising environment.

Like the air we breathe, advertising is everywhere around us. And like the air we breathe, when it is bad, advertising can foul our moods ... make us sick to death of what we have to take into our bodies. And I firmly believe that the insult of bad advertising can make us sick from a nameless anger growing in us, directed at the suits who demand advertising by the numbers, or the creatives who are incompetent or lazy or intimidated by the suits and create the bad stuff. And it seems like we're helpless to do anything about it. There's the real killer.

Why'd you kill the advertising guy? asks the judge.

The madman pulls back in his chair and gets ready to launch into his tirade, while his defense attorney gets the four-inch-wide duct tape ready to slap over his mouth the instant anything incriminating is said ... and the madman looks up at the judge and says, 'Hey ... you ever heard that radio spot that ad geek wrote? It's a damned good reason for killing.' And the defense attorney relaxes, not hearing a single incriminating word.

The game is changing, folks:

Advertising is not a science. We are not numbers. But numbers are legitimately useful to the marketing people because they help to unearth and predict trends and the like. But when ad agencies do advertising by the numbers, we get predictable results. And advertising should never be predictable. Advertising should thrill us with the unexpected and the surprising. It should be creative.

A lot of advertising being done these days is so poor in either the market research (in that the research is done so badly and depended on so heavily); the determination of value and market advantage; the creative concept, and/or the execution of that concept ... well it all has to leave you believing that these advertisers are intent on insulting you. That they hold you so much in disrespect, that they've deliberately sought out ways to offend you.

Well, it isn't so. No one in their right mind spends money trying to offend people they don't know. This, of course, excludes politicians.

No. There is no real maliciousness or meanness in their intent. The real reason they treat you with so much disrespect and shove so much bad advertising at you is that most bad advertisers or their agencies are numbers-crazed. Or lazy. Or both. Or totally untalented.

Great versus bad ... Advertising as entertainment.

This point needs to be made here ... this notion of bad advertising isn't a matter of whether it produces sales or not. Freaking miserable advertising can produce sales if it happens to be the only advertising out there, or is on the air so much that no one else is even in the name-recall game.(10) You cannot measure the quality of advertising strictly by its sales, no matter what the greed-head marketing executives say. If you're in the game for the long run, your advertising has got to generate goodwill in addition to good sales. Sales alone cannot be the measure of profit anymore. Pollution of our environment is not the agency's right.

Part of the new sales equation has to include a measure of our right as a people to have a pleasing environment, free of an atmosphere filled with sickening advert-offal. Part of the new sales equation should look to the goodwill generated by creating advertising that's compelling in its attractiveness, its appeal, its entertainment value. If it hits on those qualities, odds are it's gong to hit on sales capability. Because those positive feelings should eventually be transferred to the way the individual feels, thinks about, and responds to the product or service. This, very simply, is what I call the Identity of the product or service that the person creates.(11)

-----------------------------------------

A Question of Common Sense #2:

A Free TV Script for You

INTRO:

You're walking down the street. Someone comes staggering out of the alley and sidles on up to you and offers a free TV script for your used-car sales business. Copywriters don't come cheap, so you say okay. He reaches into his raincoat and hands you the script. It looks ... used. You take it, handling it with just your thumb and forefinger.

You read it. It begins with a guy surrounded by cars. He looks into the camera and yells (you notice there's a lot of yelling),

"Hey! You're looking for a pre-owned car (pre-owned? ... you wince at the cry for respectability). We've got 'em! And we've got the financing. Look at this one (instructions in the script indicate the spokesperson is to wave his hand magically over a used car). And it's here now! The right car. The right financing. The right people. Right now."

Fade out. Ah, if only all these people really would just fade out. Here's the common-sense bit to what's just happened. There is not a reader in the U.S. who would not have seen this script. Seen it too many times for it to make any kind of favorable impression. Common sense tells you that this script will drive people away. Not attract them.

But the dealer will point to the numbers and scream, "Hey! (they don't seem to be able to stop yelling at you). I put this spot on the air and people come. I'm making a living. Why should I change the spot?"

Because it does nothing to help you claim an Identity of who you are. No viewer can build a sense for believing your claims for low prices. No belief that you are the best place to deal for a car. People come by because your spot is one of just a few dealers on the air selling cars at every hour imaginable. You're heard, but you are not liked.

And when the next yahoo gets up on the screen and begins pitching his cars and prices, you do not stand out as a place of preference ... you end up as only just another place to eventually check out.

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I'll keep saying it ... we aren't idiots.

As buyers, as media users ... we're savvy to all the come-ons.

Look at MTV promos ... I'm not saying anything new here ... the quick-cuts, entertainment demanding interest, the phenomenal visuals ... all mind-candy and absolutely glorious. Now, for us folks in the older group ... look at the introduction sections to Monday Night Football ... they're not just announcing that the game's coming up ... they're entertaining you with action, with computer graphics, with old Hank Williams Jr. hoinking down a song in the foreground. Entertainment, friends.

But then there's the load of crap we endure silently. Advertising that appears to be deliberate assaults on our collective intelligence, common sense, taste, and sense of decency. It all comes from the fact that too many people in marketing and advertising are doing work they are not qualified to do. God knows, they're trying, but they end up producing dreck. Some of them blame it on the fact that they're doing local work and have limited budgets.

These people are mindless twits ... the lack of a high-dollar budget for advertising creation and production is no excuse for bad advertising ... advertising with no creative drive to it. Some great work has been done on a few dollars' budget. And in the same vein, some absolutely miserable work is done regularly at the average quarter-million dollars for thirty seconds of film on a TV spot.

Going for the throat.

Watch TV for a couple hours. Really watch it. What commercials do you remember at the end of that time? You'll end up with two kinds of stuff: the great wonderful, and the great miserable. All the nonsense in between is just stuff that gets kicked into the dusty corner of the dark closet in your mind and mercifully some mental arsonist comes by and sets it ablaze every once in a while during spring cleaning, or a night of too many beers.

So how do we make things better? How do advertisers respond to the notion of having a real responsibility to demand decent work from their agencies, and how do we as people insist that the advertisers and their agencies clean up their acts?

Strangely enough, I figure this begins by advertisers (business and client both) trying to become more effective. To stop pussyfooting around and go for the throat, do their jobs properly and increase their sales by taking down those who continue to screw around. Right now, it seems that most companies are just flailing away, using meaningless market research and self-centered ineffective marketing concepts which actually ignore the audience (as much as they claim to be guided by the audience) and creating advertising from that worthless pile of mindless marketing thinking.

We come back to the science argument again. If any of the ad-stuff currently (or in the past) that is being done was truly working, if the marketing and creative thought processes were indeed so good at producing effective advertising, it seems logical to assume that bad advertising wouldn't be so prevalent. People would just glom onto what works and use that. But they don't. Because there's precious little science to glom onto.

In contrast to the great stuff you'd expect if advertising were a science that worked, bad advertising is everywhere. It's the rule, not the exception you'd expect if there were a proven process of making it work. So it's not outrageous to assume that very few people in the business have even a clue about how to produce great advertising. And that means a lot of clients are throwing their money away on the work their agencies are doing because it's crap. That should scare those clients.

We do have some advertising professionals with creative and marketing abilities that come straight from the Advertising God ... Lee Clow, creative head of TBWA Chiat/Day, for one.(12) These people are few in number.

That's a damned shame.

Building and destroying:

"Get pissed. Bitch. Complain. But until you've got a way to make things work better, don't bother me." Words from my father back in the late sixties when I was feeling revolutionary and let loose with a few tirades about the Vietnam War. Old fart's lost his fire, I'd figured.

I've gotten more than a bit older since then, saw Vietnam,(13) been exposed to a bunch of crap and a bunch of beauty in this life, fallen in love and watched the finest women I've known in my life walk away after I'd blown it. My dad's dead. Mom, too. I've gotten a lot of my living done.

So now I've begun to see what my father was doing. First, he was shielding himself from stuff and an adolescent son, both of which were somewhat tiresome. And second, and most importantly, he wanted to hear how things could be made better. Even though he was a retired army officer, he was as horrified by the deaths in Vietnam as I was. He was hurt even more than me by what he saw, I think. He'd already been there in his way ... seen the killing at Normandy in W.W.II as a first lieutenant with an infantry unit, and pushing inland before a grenade sent him back to merry old England for surgery. And in the late sixties, he had to listen to a son with a loud mouth while watching his country betray him and what he'd believed in and sacrificed for in order to make it as great as it had become. He was damned well aware of the problems. He wanted answers and solutions as badly as I did.

My current mission in getting pissed, bitching and complaining about advertising isn't nearly as vital as the search for the solutions to what was tearing our country apart back then. But the solutions to these admittedly lesser advertising-driven problems, do begin here. In getting pissed.

I start by suggesting a new concept in creating a marketing and advertising framework called Identity Theory. Then I go on to rip into some current work and procedures, and to discuss how to improve advertising using Identity Theory (and a good dose of common sense and creativity).

Quite often, this book speaks directly to the advertising client, and asks the client to finally assume at least the economic right and responsibility of taking an active role in developing the message that will identify and give meaning to the product or service. This is not to say that the agency should have the client come up with the message. What this does say is that the client has a responsibility to demand that the agency explain why the creative idea and the marketing message are expected to work, and if that explanation sounds squishy, it probably is and the client should hold tight to his or her wallet. If it doesn't make sense to you, the client, it won't make sense to someone eating a brat, drinking a beer and watching TV.

Agencies are going to hate to hear this idea of client involvement, but they can rot. Because in the end, the client's the one who pays the bills ... the family restaurant owner who may live or die by that 30-second spot on the USA Cable channel at 10:13 p.m., on a soft Thursday evening while people are just beginning to hope to make it to the weekend and they're thinking more about getting laid and playing some grab-ass with their lover on the couch than they are paying attention to the advert spot on TV. And the restaurant commercial is boringly predictable with shots of food and family (the client's family, don't you know) ... it sucks about as hard as the business end of an elephant trunk and the people on the couch, who had given the spot about four seconds attention to see if it was worthwhile, turn away looking for lust-stuff instead.

Now, suppose this was a Nielsen couple ... you know, those people "out there" whose TV watching gets metered and their viewing behavior is supposed to represent the general viewing behavior of the population. Because there are only a limited number of these families, those two people count huge in figuring out how many people watch any program (and by assumption, the commercial).(14) But these two were playing grab-ass and never saw the damned spot. And guess what? No one comes to the restaurant. And the restaurant owners can't figure out why their advertising doesn't work. Hell, they ran it on the right show. All the Nielsen numbers show that. But a couple who marked that they were watching the show, were instead, in grope-mode and never saw the whole spot to the end, where the name of the restaurant was shown.

And in the end, client concerns with profit and laying waste to the competition, rather than peaceful coexistence, properly exercised may help clear the air for all of us. If clients demand more accountability in the creation of the advertising, they'll get better advertising and better placement of it.

What I've written comes from nearly a decade (counting off-and-on freelance) in the advertising business as a copywriter. I never wanted a Creative Director's slot in the biz. This is no slam on CDs, the next natural step up in the business for copywriters and art directors, but I never wanted to be one. I always wanted to go home with dirty hands and a torqued mind from a day of creating work, rather than directing it.

Again, a qualification: I've run into some great CDs who knew what and when to contribute creatively. I've also known some great ones who knew that their greatest personal creative contribution was to stay completely away from the copywriter and art director and their work. I've known, and all of us in the biz have known and heard of other CDs who killed great creative and did clients a great disservice because they were unable to recognize the quality of the creative thought and the advertising potential of the work presented to them by the copywriter and art director. These CDs were the more brain-dead creatures you still find in the biz. Fortunately, you can smell them out. They reek of an anxiety-sweat that comes from fear of being found out as failures, or panting in anticipation of taking credit for someone else's work. They also talk real fast so it sounds like they know what they're doing.

I don't believe clients should be involved in the early stages of the creative, but I do believe clients should know who's gatekeeping, or screening their potential creative work (this would be the Creative Director). And clients should get to know that CD and feel comfortable with that person and the decisions that will be made for them on their account.

This book also comes from a deep love for the act of creating ... when creative thought begins to emerge, take form, and becomes something so real, you feel like you're breathing in an indescribably mystical atmosphere. This love comes from the sheer pleasure of working with some exceptional people who bring their hearts, minds and souls to the work, and produce something that touches the heart, appeals to the mind. Something that can actually provide sustenance for the soul in the same way as can what we classically think of as art.

Finally, the motive for writing this book also comes from a profound belief in people, all of us, as communicating, reasoning beings who seek meaning in our communications, and hate wasting our time with meaningless advertising.

And I remember what brought me to the business in the first place. It was a dream of doing something exciting, something new, something that would bring a new way of seeing to people. Discovering the whole cloth of that thing again, whatever it was, just might help set things right on my karmic account again.

On my criticism of statistical research ...

I've worked for a few medium-sized agencies, and a larger one. None of the agencies held great truck with intense research. The upshot of that is this ... other than some rather intensive training in getting my Ph.D. and some professional exposure to some rather suspect numbers posing as statistically meaningful data, I do not have an extreme background in research and statistics. That's not where I lived in the agency business. But I've been well-trained in my doctoral studies, and I believe that I can tear into nearly any research on human beings for its weakness, sink canines deep into the assumptions, and rip the liver from the damned thing with a quick backwards snap of my head.

Society changes. People change. Events can alter perceptions. And all this can happen overnight. The best that research can do is approximate where we are at any one point in time. We should not depend on it too much.

In other words, I do not trust conventional research methods. If you're committed to an uncritical belief in statistical data, you might want to avoid this book, because I really believe in the old argument against the validity of human research ... the one that says that people are too unpredictable to be able to use statistical data on them in a generalized, predictive manner. And you don't need to be a pro with numbers to recognize that argument.

On the idea of a whole new theory ...

A lot of the stuff that's being thought in advertising these days is not wholly wrong. And some intelligent new thinking about the way the reader relates to the advertising is now coming to the forefront in some areas.(15)

But the way in which we're currently looking at advertising and how the parts are put together don't work so well. So, in Identity Theory, you'll see some thoughts that look familiar and feel a bit like the traditional elements of benefits, positioning, brand imaging, and others. Again, it's not that those thoughts are completely off-track, it's just that the combinations in which they've been assembled simply haven't been doing the job. It is interesting that the greatest challenges issued by Identity come from the idea most closely related to it ... positioning.

For example, while both positioning and Identity Theory hold that the most important issue in advertising is how the target market perceives of the product or service, both systems have significantly different ways of thinking about that perception, how it is created, and the consumer's uses of that perception. To its credit, positioning does attempt to climb inside the skull of the individual to determine the best position to take, but it does it from the marketer's perspective. In contrast, Identity eliminates the marketing background and seeks knowledge purely from the individual's perspective. And that perspective involves the entire gestalt of their lives ... from the morning's anger at a broken shoelace on the Nikes, to the birth of a child later that night. It is the totality of our lives that creates the way we think of things. Not just the advertising we're exposed to. And that requires an entirely new way of looking at the people we wish to communicate with.

There is another shift in thinking going on here. Because Identity Theory is centered on how the consumer perceives information and not on the marketing environment, issues absolutely central to positioning such as clutter, the competitive environment, and a hierarchy of preferences in product/service choice are either wholly eliminated or dealt with as nothing more than background noise.

This is heresy in almost any advertising theory.

There are also dramatic differences in the perception of the overall cause of the way the individual thinks about the product/service. Identity Theory has a full and deep commitment to conceptually driven creative advertising as a part of creating the public's overall perception of the product/service, while the primary positioning proponents have declared that creativity is dead. This rejection of the importance of creativity is a marketer's perspective ... not a consumer's desire.

Ultimately, Identity Theory is guided by the notion that theory needs to start more with the gestalt, the overall lifeway of the consumer, and the personal and cultural values of the individual ... more with those things than our advertising words and concepts, or even the product.

And here's the secret. Advertising is communication.

It is not marketing.

There's been a very mean and nasty trick played on the advertising and marketing disciplines. For years, people have been told that advertising was a function of marketing. Hell, it's in the textbooks in college. It's got to be true, don't you know? And most organizations put advertising under marketing, so that advertising is just a tool of the marketing function.

No.

Advertising is communication. Marketing is number crunching and moving product from point-to-point and all that crap. Granted, marketing is also concerned with consumer behavior, which seems about as consumer-directed as you can possibly get. But consumer behavior is a study of the consumer. It is not communicating with them.

It is when you really understand the difference between advertising and marketing that you understand how all these bad decisions about advertising have come about ... it's because they let the advertising be led by marketing needs and desires.

It is the suits' failure to remember that advertising is communications. But it's when the creatives, the copywriter and the art director, remember that they're talking to people that the good work begins to emerge. And it is when the marketing people and all those other scary people who think in marketing terms get involved that we see good communications work turned into something that looks like the horror of the inside of a single guy's refrigerator.

This idea is central to this book ... we need to look at advertising as communication. And we need to see it from the consumer's point of view, which is that advertising is communication, not marketing. The instant we begin to view either the advertising or the consumer from a marketing perspective, we have misunderstood what advertising is in the consumer's mind.

The consumer does not think of products or services in marketing terms. The consumer thinks in terms of his or her own life. And if you think in these terms, even well-accepted ideas such as the notion that there's a competitive product environment out there comes into serious question.

When the suits guide the advertising by imposing marketing perspectives on the work, the work moves away from the communication process that it really is. And it becomes the horror we see too much of every day. So it's obvious what needs to happen.

The suits must die.

They must let their need to control die off and remove themselves from the communications field of advertising. They can go do suit-things. And let the communicators, the creatives, talk with the people.

__________

Click here for chapter two of The Suits Must Die.

Click here for Professor Greg Stene's Roadrash City.

__________

1. "The Mars Global Surveyor became the first spacecraft in 21 years to orbit the planet successfully ... the last attempt, by Mars Observer in 1993, failed three days before it was to reach orbit." The New York Times, Craft Is On Track to Map Terrain of Mars, JOHN NOBLE WILFORD; Section A; Page 18; Column 4, September 12, 1997. The two Voyager satellites are now into more than 20 years headed out into space.

2. Various estimates exist. For example: a) Sacramento Bee, SHORT COURSE IN BUSINESS SAVVY, Gilbert Chan, Bee Staff Writer, BUSINESS; Pg. IB10, March 24, 1997; Quoting Deb Bowers, "Eighty percent of new businesses fail in the first three years." b) Chicago Sun-Times, Dreams can happen with good planning, Sue Morem, SECTION: FIN; WORKPLACE; Pg. 42, June 30, 1997, "Each year, entrepreneurs start more than 800,000 new businesses in the United States. More than 50 percent will fail within the first five years because of poor planning." Whatever the case, the rate is not terribly encouraging, nor does it suggest that business is generally a matter of proven scientific planning.

3. CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, How to launch a new product successfully, Cooper, Robert G., SECTION: Vol. 69 ; No. 8 ; Pg. 20, October, 1995, "New products fail at an alarming rate. An estimated 46 per cent of the money that corporations spend on the conception, development and launch of new products is spent on losers - products that fail commercially, or projects which are cancelled prior to launch." The article went on to note that P&G was one of the organizations using a new system to reduce the investment in failed introductions.

4. http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/technology/wired/story.html?s=z/reu...

5. http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0622/26eserv.html

6. Look at a Web location http://www.webring.com for groups of home pages set up by individuals who are complaining about products or services. For example, at least two computer manufacturers are currently being taken to task by a rather large number of people.

7. My real mentors at the University of Colorado were some of the finest-thinking and most decent human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing.

8. In late 1997, the word was getting around that the Nike "swoosh" design had been bought for $35.00. It would be interesting to know if the corporation ever paid the designer any additional money out of sheer appreciation for developing a sign/symbol which could hold such meaning internationally.

9. For example; Contemporary Advertising, William F. Arens, 6th Ed., Irwin, p.6.

10. Insert any of your local used-car sales companies. You've got at least one fouling your TV air if you live anywhere near civilization. And what's this crap about "pre-owned" cars? Does anyone believe we really buy into that re-positioning?

11. This "Identity" may seem like brand image, at first introduction. But I'm proposing that Identity is a far more all-encompassing notion. Please see the closing of this chapter for a deeper discussion..

12. Clow stated that what he wanted to do with the 1996+ Nissan advertising (the Dream Garage, and all the spots featuring a cameo by an Asian character known as Mr. K (representing a real-life Mr. Katayama, a well-liked Datsun/Nissan representative in the U.S.), was to do something different from standard auto advertising ... to entertain people while they watched the TV spot. xxx

13. I was lucky. Was Military Police. Had a bed each night to sleep in. Got my share of snipers taking potshots at me, tripped a grenade booby trap that didn't go off, had enough weird things ... but I had a bed, a shower. Precious things to a grunt humping a ruck in the bush.

14. A single rating point, the way a program is rated, is worth about 970,000 households, which translates into even larger dollars when it comes to the cost of advertising on any particular show. See the Sacramento Bee, How Nielsen Selects The Families That Rate TV, Rick Kushman, April 20, 1997, Pg. EN6, for more information.

15. For example, David Glen Mick& Claus Buhl, A Meaning-based Model of Advertising Experiences, Journal of Consumer Research, 19, Dec. 1992, p. 317-338; Linda M. Scott, The Bridge from Test to Mind: Adapting Reader-Response theory to Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Research, 21, Dec. 1994, 461-480.

The Suits Must Die.

The advertising industry at a dead end.
Greg Stene, Ph.D.

Mass Communication
Idaho State University
Pocatello, ID 83209
208.282.4539

getting ...
Forward

There's a war going on in the advertising industry.

The suits against the creatives.

It's a war that's been going on for years. But the suits seem to have launched a quiet offensive over the recent years. The suits, the account executives, agency owners, marketing directors ... even clients ... over the years, they've been trying to move the business and social understanding of advertising into something of a science. And the suits are winning, folks. Which means that the creatives (the copywriters and art directors) are increasingly being controlled by what the research numbers say. We're moving away from the act of communicating in advertising, to making advertising that meets marketing goals. And we're all going to have to put up with a lot more bad advertising assaulting all of us because of it.

A lot of the advertising coming at you these days is run-of-the-mill. Stuff you want to run from. If you were teaching it, you'd discover that the introduction text books generally have little to say about the creative endeavor, or the fact that advertising is a process of communication. Instead, they fill the students' minds with visions of market segmentation; recall, recognition, and attitude testing; and the typical marketer's diarrhetic output of charts and graphs which turn human behavior into nothing more than a mechanical plug-n-play system, with not a thought about what's going on inside the buyer's head.

Concepts and the creative people who bring them to life are increasingly assaulted and marginalized with testing techniques that even the suits acknowledge are questionable. Clients demand accountability for the dollars they're spending, and in the process of trying to be accountable, agencies are paying more attention to the numbers (47% of the people like the ad, plus or minus 4% ... just what the hell does that really mean?) than they are to the people they're trying to communicate with. You. And me.

But we're people. Not numbers. And we don't fit into graphs and charts and the suits in the agencies and the clients who hire them have forgotten that truth.

The war has spread. It's not just between the suits and the creatives in the agency. The damage has spilled out into our society, and each one of us is involved in the advertising coming out of that war. It touches us with the advertising we see when we turn on the TV, open a magazine, or try to hide in the Internet. We're all combatants.

I know communication theory. I worked hard for that Ph.D. in communications that I've got. And I deal in theory that appeals to common sense and leans hard on experience. Doesn't seem to be much of that out there.

This is not rocket science.

Too bad. Because rocket science is a piece of cake compared to understanding the human mind. And doing meaningful advertising. Advertising, in terms of communication, is not a science that can be reduced to numbers.

Take a look at how it plays out in common-sense terms. Meaningful advertising and flying both developed around the same time at the turn of the 20th century. Since those first crazed, fitful hops at Kitty Hawk, we've tossed men and women into space, landed on the moon, successfully lost a space research vehicle just as it was about to probe the glories of Mars, landed another successfully, and we have at least two vehicles pushing their way to the edges of our galaxy.(1)

Now, in contrast and over the same time period, what have we done in advertising that's so damned scientific? Well, we have yet to figure out what motivates a kid to buy a stick of gum. We have yet to figure out the assumed science behind the creativity of an ad. We have yet to figure out why an ad apparently affects someone the day after it has apparently not affected him or her. And we're still not sure what an "effect" really is.

Finally, in this listing of the reasons why some people who study advertising mistakenly believe that the field is a science (these creatures being mostly marketing professionals and scholars whose livelihood depends on shoving numbers at you, because if you're a marketer and can provide your client with numbers, you can "prove" effects; and if you're a scholar and you can call it a science because you've got numbers, you can get research grants), I suggest we take a look at the failure of businesses in this country.

A high percentage of new businesses fail.(2)

Let's think about this for a second. If both business and advertising work scientifically, and if the research has any sort of meaning at all ... it would seem logical that all a new company would have to do is apply certain "scientifically proven-effective" business and advertising principles and it would survive. Even if you've got some greed-head cooking the books, or some idiot who can't keep them.

But a large number of new businesses do go down the toilet. Sucked deep down with that nasty wad of toilet paper. And we can't blame the failures strictly on the part of elements outside of advertising ... say, bad management. Consider how many new products introduced by the major companies like Procter and Gamble(3), who probably have every advertising resed138bfd7bb6f0663dcc71c6b82557c00 data-bit at hand in some computer ... consider how many of these new-product introductions by companies with scientific management expertise at hand fail.

There is no advertising science of any predictable kind going on here. Anyone who says so is just plain horribly mistaken. Or worse.

Sometimes, it will be good to look at the common sense behind an advertising concept. To see what works and what doesn't. Those times will be titled:
------------------------------

A Question of Common Sense #1:

Intel and Dancing Bears

INTRO:

Intel's(*) 1997 crop of TV spots selling the power of its technology kind of reminded me of that old sideshow/circus attraction ... dancing bears. With the Intel spots, we had spaced-age engineers and technicians dressed in androgynous and anonymous uniforms and head coverings reflecting some pretty-colored lights.

Dancing. To some seriously funky music.

PERSONAL COMMENT:
The first spot in the series had a great tune. Wild Cherry's, "Play that Funky Music, White Boy." But you won't hear that "white boy" part of the tune in the TV spot. None too P.C., I suppose. It's a tune done back in the days of disco madness, where the funk was what mattered and no one slapped a lawsuit against anyone for using the term "white boy" in some music lyrics. There is no racism in that song. Back then, no one seemed to have too much of a problem with this. What the hell's happened to our society that we've got to re-write a disco tune out of P.C. madness, for god's sake?

THE CRITIQUE:

Do dancing, neatly lighted engineers in plastic suits have anything to do (positively or negatively) with the quality of a PC chip?

A while before these ads were aired, Intel was brought up on the public carpet for producing it's new Pentium chip with results which admittedly were not perfect. Ah ... mistake comes up once in a blue moon, paraphrasing Intel. Not a real problem for the average user (and the problem did in fact, appear to be way beyond the concerns of the average user).

But then IBM locked into this and said it actually happened in use a lot more frequently. The sniping and bad attitudes between the heavies continued for a while ... meanwhile, the customers who'd bought the chips with the error problem asked about replacement chips ... Intel stonewalled for a significant length of time, then finally caved in (apparently) to some seriously nasty public relations problems and began replacing the chips for the general user.

Then in May, 1997, there was word about the new Pentium II chip ... that it had a once-in-a-blue-moon flaw.

And shortly after, we have dancing engineers making MMX Pentium chips. Selling fun. Not reliability. Or trust. Go figure.

They sold well, though. Americans, as someone wryly observed, are a people without a history. What happened in the past doesn't matter a whole lot to us. And, it would seem we have little choice in the matter. Intel's got a monopoly on the chip market, anyway. Right?

Well, it seems there are alternatives. One, for example, is the AMD K6 chip series (***). With competition, it'll be interesting to see how long the fun part of computing remains Intel's mainstay in its advertising.

I have nothing against Intel. It's just that as I looked at dancing engineers on my TV screen across the room ... I could only think of dancing circus bears ... and remember the horrorshow in quality concerns a few years ago when the Pentium first came out. If Intel had remembered its own history and let it guide them, these TV spots might not have seen the light of disco madness dancing on their lab uniforms.

LATE DECEMBER, 1997

Ah, you've got to love the marketing whizzos and the American public. It seems, according to the newscast I saw this on, that the American public's response to the multicolored dancing Intel chip makers was so great, that someone has now come out with a doll of them. Go figure.

JUNE, 1998

Four days before launching its new Pentium II Xeon chip, Intel announced that the chip had "errata" under a particular configuration. Simple terms ... under certain conditions, the chip would do something naughty. Intel is not, at this time, saying what that something is.(4) PC Week Online said it was a matter of the machine spontaneously rebooting.(5) It does not appear that the problem is causing anyone any real problems, and Intel says it will have a fix in place soon.

MAY, 2000

Nothing drastic happening at this point in time, other than the fact that AMD has continued to grow and become a major competitor of Intel, and they actually beat Intel by a few days at the public showing of the first 1 gig chip. Now, if only Intel would bring back those dancing clean-room technicians, I'm sure AMD would just fall way back in the competitive environment.

LATE SUMMER, 2000

Intel has the not-so-unique honor of having to recall its new Pentium III 1.13 gigahertz chip for a technical problem which could crash some computing operations.

-------------------------------------------
* All noted Intel, Pentium and MMX are understood to be registered TMs.
** All noted Cyrix is understood to be registered TMs.
*** All noted AMD is understood to be registered TMs.

------------------------------------------

I can't be certain, but I imagine it was a marketing decision to sell the notion of fun and power. Juice up the image of the chip. Push this message down the consumer's throat.

But it's a meaningless message. And works against the idea of reliability.

If they'd considered the human concerns ... the potential for damage caused by bad chips ... if they'd sat down with some users and talked with them about how people view the chips, or don't even see them in their lives ... if they'd considered the idea of the advertising communicating the truth about the chip rather than trying to build a meaningless image of the thing ... they might have realized that the consumer knows something.

Chips are an integral part of our lives, fitting into everything from computers to cars to heart monitoring machines in an ECU. We depend on them. We need to depend on the company that makes what ... 80-90% of the chips in our computers.

Perhaps you creatively sell the idea of security ... trust.

That's a far cry from selling us dancing technicians in shiny clean-room suits. And that's the difference between advertising as a marketing tool, and advertising as a communications process.

Advertising as a communications process depends, in part, on discovering beliefs, impressions, and values people already hold about a product or product category, and communicating with them about those.

An interruption:

This book cannot be a typical take on advertising, with guides of all sort telling people how to do advertising and write glorious headlines. A lot of what I've said won't fit into the mold accepted by others. But damn it, that's exactly why I've said it. This is not a text book, or some how-to-do-it waste of paper. There are tons of texts out there already. What this is instead, is thinking there's something horribly wrong with the textbook way that we're doing things. I'm teaching my advertising classes out of those texts and while the students need to know the conventional way of thinking about this most unconventional business, I cringe sometimes at the stuff I have to talk about.

The old ways just aren't good enough anymore. Reality just is not as real as it used to be. It's time we realized that we've pushed into new territory, new thinking, a whole goddamned new age. People are smarter ... more savvy about advertising and the media, the markets are becoming competitive again, the Internet is going to toss up a tremendous confusion of voices and the smaller players are going to look as good, if not better than the traditional players who currently control the market. People are posting home pages on the Internet bitching literally to the whole world about the quality of products and services.(6) We've got to do something to respond to it all ... something new, even if what we do is way wrong. At least that'll give us an idea of what not to do again.

Is it advertising, or is it art?

Someone once said that the art of the latter half of the twentieth century was to be found in advertising. Don't buy into that too easily. No matter how beautiful, they're still ads. But maybe that's the secret ... we don't find art in advertising ... advertising is our art.

Whichever. The thing is, you're only going to find the real art of the latter twentieth century in maybe one percent of the advertising that's going down. And it's unconscionable that true art in this realm of creativity should be so damned hard to find. But the fact is that the fine art in advertising is a rarity in our lives, and that is an unnatural sin of the highest nature.

Note to the general public:

"I carry two guns, in case I run into the Doublemint twins."
Greg.

This book straight-out violates the expectations and refined traditions you run into when you hear ad or marketing professionals, or the media intellectual darlings talk about advertising. In that sphere, everyone's respectful of each other and accepting even of thoughts and ideas they disagree with. And as a result, they are wholly ineffective when it comes to dealing with reality.

Some of those people are business pros who should know better, but can't manage a creative thought about the work they do. Caught up in charts, graphs, and numbers, and holding to some old ideas because they kind of work. Sort of.

Other voices out there are scholarly. Taking things under advisement. Even the absurd. Because to call someone a rat-bastard for thinking like an idiot is just not the way of things in scholarly circles. Perhaps it should be. Maybe then the scholars'd be a little more responsible for the absurd words and ideas they sling around.

In contrast, I was an ad pro, and I've finished with the journey toward the Ph.D.(7) I find myself in a rather happy nether-world of being relatively well-informed on both the professional and academic end of things, with absolutely no reason to be quiet or respectful in the process of discussion. However, I do feel the need to apologize to those of you who have mistakenly picked up this book, expecting quiet, reasoned thought. What you will find here instead is loud, angry ... reasoned thought.

There is emotion here. Extreme at times. When someone insults me, I get angry, resentful, and wholly disrespectful. When someone makes me laugh, I laugh loudly. When someone impresses me, or makes me think, I hold that in great appreciation. Advertising does all those things to me; it insults, amuses and impresses me. And, in the best of advertising jargon, it does even more. So I write with all those emotions, and even more.

Get fed up.

This book is a call on the advertising communities of this country to improve the quality of the advertising that we, the people, must endure. Because enduring it is exactly what we have to do nearly every minute of our lives.

Advertising's everywhere. Look at your running shoes. Or your ball cap. Or your T-shirt. Or someone else's. Notice how, when you put your underwear on, you look at the brand label to figure out which side's supposed to go behind you and not in front (weird, that we depend on the label, not on the shape of the product to tell us front from back).

All of this is stuff that we all wear. Stuff that turns us into a walking, talking advertisement to other people for the companies that produced the product (I remember a long-lost lover's underwear and her appreciation for them, and the fact that they were Jockey and that I noticed the label every time I slipped them off her; the over-the-hip style when it first came out, and that I remembered the name specifically for future reference ... not that I would buy women's Jockey's to wear, but maybe give her a pair as a gift, you know).

You pay a load for a Nike T-shirt in preference to a non-marketing shirt with no name on it, and you end up advertising Nike every time you wear the shirt. But you don't get paid a dime for it. That's the way it works ... and the strange thing about this is the fact that the human body seems to be the only billboard that doesn't get paid for the advertising it does.

And yet, this body-imaging is probably some of the most effective advertising that can be done. Consider this ... you hang around a group of your friends. You need a pair of cross-trainer athletic shoes (notice they're now no longer simply tennis shoes or sneakers) because you're going to lift weights, and maybe run a bit, and mow the yard in them, so you've gotta have those cross-trainers which are built for a multitude of activities. You've seen the ads for Reebok in the magazines. But you've also seen the Nikes that your friend wears, emblazoned with the Nike "swoosh" on the side.(8) You remember he's bought Nikes ever since you've known him. You don't even need to talk to him about them. He's already told you he likes them. He's shown you the Nike logo every time he wears them; not deliberately , of course, but just as a part of his body image. Reeboks must suck since your friend is wearing Nikes. And keeps buying them. This decision is a no-brainer. You buy Nikes.

Now, some people are going to try to define advertising as a paid form of sending a message, like buying space in a newspaper. You see that kind of definition in almost every text book on the subject.(9) That's idiotic. It's not enough. What your friend has done to your mind with his shoes has sold you more on Nike than any paid TV spot ever will.

But that's just a look at what happens in the real world ... the ever-presence of advertising. I use that fact as justification for one of the calls issued by this book ... if we have to live with advertising everywhere around us ... some people claim we're exposed to 400 ads per day .... we ought to start demanding that it be great work.

This book calls for both the client and the agency to invest more in intelligence, creativity and common sense in producing quality work. The words in this book get brutal at times, but not nearly as brutal as the lack of respect for us consumers and the outright insult that bad advertising really is. So while this book does propose a more reasoned way of looking at the theory behind advertising and how it may become more effective, the final goal of these pages you hold is to make a call for a better advertising environment.

Like the air we breathe, advertising is everywhere around us. And like the air we breathe, when it is bad, advertising can foul our moods ... make us sick to death of what we have to take into our bodies. And I firmly believe that the insult of bad advertising can make us sick from a nameless anger growing in us, directed at the suits who demand advertising by the numbers, or the creatives who are incompetent or lazy or intimidated by the suits and create the bad stuff. And it seems like we're helpless to do anything about it. There's the real killer.

Why'd you kill the advertising guy? asks the judge.

The madman pulls back in his chair and gets ready to launch into his tirade, while his defense attorney gets the four-inch-wide duct tape ready to slap over his mouth the instant anything incriminating is said ... and the madman looks up at the judge and says, 'Hey ... you ever heard that radio spot that ad geek wrote? It's a damned good reason for killing.' And the defense attorney relaxes, not hearing a single incriminating word.

The game is changing, folks:

Advertising is not a science. We are not numbers. But numbers are legitimately useful to the marketing people because they help to unearth and predict trends and the like. But when ad agencies do advertising by the numbers, we get predictable results. And advertising should never be predictable. Advertising should thrill us with the unexpected and the surprising. It should be creative.

A lot of advertising being done these days is so poor in either the market research (in that the research is done so badly and depended on so heavily); the determination of value and market advantage; the creative concept, and/or the execution of that concept ... well it all has to leave you believing that these advertisers are intent on insulting you. That they hold you so much in disrespect, that they've deliberately sought out ways to offend you.

Well, it isn't so. No one in their right mind spends money trying to offend people they don't know. This, of course, excludes politicians.

No. There is no real maliciousness or meanness in their intent. The real reason they treat you with so much disrespect and shove so much bad advertising at you is that most bad advertisers or their agencies are numbers-crazed. Or lazy. Or both. Or totally untalented.

Great versus bad ... Advertising as entertainment.

This point needs to be made here ... this notion of bad advertising isn't a matter of whether it produces sales or not. Freaking miserable advertising can produce sales if it happens to be the only advertising out there, or is on the air so much that no one else is even in the name-recall game.(10) You cannot measure the quality of advertising strictly by its sales, no matter what the greed-head marketing executives say. If you're in the game for the long run, your advertising has got to generate goodwill in addition to good sales. Sales alone cannot be the measure of profit anymore. Pollution of our environment is not the agency's right.

Part of the new sales equation has to include a measure of our right as a people to have a pleasing environment, free of an atmosphere filled with sickening advert-offal. Part of the new sales equation should look to the goodwill generated by creating advertising that's compelling in its attractiveness, its appeal, its entertainment value. If it hits on those qualities, odds are it's gong to hit on sales capability. Because those positive feelings should eventually be transferred to the way the individual feels, thinks about, and responds to the product or service. This, very simply, is what I call the Identity of the product or service that the person creates.(11)

-----------------------------------------

A Question of Common Sense #2:

A Free TV Script for You

INTRO:

You're walking down the street. Someone comes staggering out of the alley and sidles on up to you and offers a free TV script for your used-car sales business. Copywriters don't come cheap, so you say okay. He reaches into his raincoat and hands you the script. It looks ... used. You take it, handling it with just your thumb and forefinger.

You read it. It begins with a guy surrounded by cars. He looks into the camera and yells (you notice there's a lot of yelling),

"Hey! You're looking for a pre-owned car (pre-owned? ... you wince at the cry for respectability). We've got 'em! And we've got the financing. Look at this one (instructions in the script indicate the spokesperson is to wave his hand magically over a used car). And it's here now! The right car. The right financing. The right people. Right now."

Fade out. Ah, if only all these people really would just fade out. Here's the common-sense bit to what's just happened. There is not a reader in the U.S. who would not have seen this script. Seen it too many times for it to make any kind of favorable impression. Common sense tells you that this script will drive people away. Not attract them.

But the dealer will point to the numbers and scream, "Hey! (they don't seem to be able to stop yelling at you). I put this spot on the air and people come. I'm making a living. Why should I change the spot?"

Because it does nothing to help you claim an Identity of who you are. No viewer can build a sense for believing your claims for low prices. No belief that you are the best place to deal for a car. People come by because your spot is one of just a few dealers on the air selling cars at every hour imaginable. You're heard, but you are not liked.

And when the next yahoo gets up on the screen and begins pitching his cars and prices, you do not stand out as a place of preference ... you end up as only just another place to eventually check out.

---------------------------------------

I'll keep saying it ... we aren't idiots.

As buyers, as media users ... we're savvy to all the come-ons.

Look at MTV promos ... I'm not saying anything new here ... the quick-cuts, entertainment demanding interest, the phenomenal visuals ... all mind-candy and absolutely glorious. Now, for us folks in the older group ... look at the introduction sections to Monday Night Football ... they're not just announcing that the game's coming up ... they're entertaining you with action, with computer graphics, with old Hank Williams Jr. hoinking down a song in the foreground. Entertainment, friends.

But then there's the load of crap we endure silently. Advertising that appears to be deliberate assaults on our collective intelligence, common sense, taste, and sense of decency. It all comes from the fact that too many people in marketing and advertising are doing work they are not qualified to do. God knows, they're trying, but they end up producing dreck. Some of them blame it on the fact that they're doing local work and have limited budgets.

These people are mindless twits ... the lack of a high-dollar budget for advertising creation and production is no excuse for bad advertising ... advertising with no creative drive to it. Some great work has been done on a few dollars' budget. And in the same vein, some absolutely miserable work is done regularly at the average quarter-million dollars for thirty seconds of film on a TV spot.

Going for the throat.

Watch TV for a couple hours. Really watch it. What commercials do you remember at the end of that time? You'll end up with two kinds of stuff: the great wonderful, and the great miserable. All the nonsense in between is just stuff that gets kicked into the dusty corner of the dark closet in your mind and mercifully some mental arsonist comes by and sets it ablaze every once in a while during spring cleaning, or a night of too many beers.

So how do we make things better? How do advertisers respond to the notion of having a real responsibility to demand decent work from their agencies, and how do we as people insist that the advertisers and their agencies clean up their acts?

Strangely enough, I figure this begins by advertisers (business and client both) trying to become more effective. To stop pussyfooting around and go for the throat, do their jobs properly and increase their sales by taking down those who continue to screw around. Right now, it seems that most companies are just flailing away, using meaningless market research and self-centered ineffective marketing concepts which actually ignore the audience (as much as they claim to be guided by the audience) and creating advertising from that worthless pile of mindless marketing thinking.

We come back to the science argument again. If any of the ad-stuff currently (or in the past) that is being done was truly working, if the marketing and creative thought processes were indeed so good at producing effective advertising, it seems logical to assume that bad advertising wouldn't be so prevalent. People would just glom onto what works and use that. But they don't. Because there's precious little science to glom onto.

In contrast to the great stuff you'd expect if advertising were a science that worked, bad advertising is everywhere. It's the rule, not the exception you'd expect if there were a proven process of making it work. So it's not outrageous to assume that very few people in the business have even a clue about how to produce great advertising. And that means a lot of clients are throwing their money away on the work their agencies are doing because it's crap. That should scare those clients.

We do have some advertising professionals with creative and marketing abilities that come straight from the Advertising God ... Lee Clow, creative head of TBWA Chiat/Day, for one.(12) These people are few in number.

That's a damned shame.

Building and destroying:

"Get pissed. Bitch. Complain. But until you've got a way to make things work better, don't bother me." Words from my father back in the late sixties when I was feeling revolutionary and let loose with a few tirades about the Vietnam War. Old fart's lost his fire, I'd figured.

Adland: 

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Did this book ever get published?

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