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Archive for September, 2007

Why Simple Is Good

While getting my daily dose of the ‘book, I came across this banner ad from the folks at that fruit company:macpcbanner.jpgAnd I thought to myself this is such a simple and cool use of space that really stands out from the increasing intrusive and annoying fare that is being procured as digital advertising – give the user the choice to receive the content and make it a little bit different from the norm when they do decide to take up your offer to have some of their time. Surely this is sacrilege?

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Human beings are both intrinsically tribal and hypocritical. What we criticize in others is often a reflection of flaws we see in our own characters that we choose to ignore. And this post is about that very subject.

The advertising community, like every other human community is essentially a collection of tribes. I could go into a monologue on the social history of humans, but the majority of you guys know more about it than me, so I’ll cut to the chase.

There is a tendency, particular now in the web 2.0 / social-media / digital world we live in to take the sword to ‘traditional advertising agencies’ – the companies built by people whose names adorn their logos and walls to this day. They don’t really get digital, they still think the 30 second spot is the zenith of communications, they try to push ads onto MySpace senselessly and still think they occupy the intellectual elite with their Oxbridge degrees and old boy meetups. They have become the enemy.

The hero of the piece, as some would like to tell is the the mobile startup, the perfectly differentiated company, staffed with radical free thinkers who don’t know or care about the boundaries and boxes that define traditional advertising. They are at the forefront of the push to make comms more organic and are altogether full of goodness.

So you have the good guys and the bad guys, locked in a titanic struggle. The traditionals are arrogant and closed-minded, while the new kids on the block are the exact opposite.

In painting this picture, a slice of the so called savior sect have turned into total assholes. Totally. They’ve become everything that they accuse the traditional advertising community of being. Arrogant, a closed group who laugh with disdain at everything the others do. ‘The traditionals don’t go to cool conferences, they wear jeans and blazers and they really really cannot do good work’. The saviors have become everything that they said they weren’t.

The purpose of this post isn’t to name names, I’ll leave that to the tabloids. Or even to say who’s right and who’s not, because the truth, as is always the case lies somewhere in between. What I’m trying to get at (while on the last train from London to Birmingham) is that advertising as a community – and a small community at that, is facing tough enough times as it is. We’re up against a formidable enemy: the limits of the human brain’s bandwidth – our inability to process more than a certain amount of messages. To slice ourselves up into little cliques and paint the others as the enemy is not really the best course of action. Bear in mind that a healthy, competitive rivalry is not what I’m talking about, it’s the acid-laden ‘we’re better than them’ sanctimonious bullshit that makes me (and I haven’t had a ‘proper’ agency job yet) think ‘do these people not listen to themselves talk?’. Both sides are guilty of it, but I find it ironic that each side claims supremacy but essentially is the same. They are both, in their own capacity trying to make their work better. Some (and please note I said some, not all) attitudes need a little readjustment.

The people who really get it, and they are out there in droves, the silent majority as it were, are able to articulate their differences in a rational and persuasive manner that makes it extremely hard not to respect their opinions (no matter what you think of them personally), because they have conviction in themselves but are gracious enough to realize that they don’t know it all. They are open to new thoughts and experiences – they take the cliche ‘a good idea can come from anywhere’, and really live it. Not just pay it lip service and move on.

There will always be intra and inter agency politics, that’s a human trait, to be tribal. And we will always see everything through the lens of our insecurites. Let’s remember that this industry is maybe one of the most stimulating because of it’s purpose and its people. To slice and dice it to put yourself on a pedestal at the expense of others is a childish, adolescent act of insecurity. And as someone who is still coming out of his childhood and adolescence, these aren’t traits that we need to propagate and use to identify ourselves with.

I don’t know at this point whether I’m getting across what I set out to, because I’m just writing what I’m thinking, without thinking about it. This is the best industry by far to work in, like Anton says it has the coolest and most varied people around. To turn it into a school popularity contest would be a shame, because that is not what advertising and ultimately the people who work in it are about. I wish I could think of a cool strapline to sum it all up, but I’m tired and this is probably the most coherency I can summon at this time. I hope it’s enough to say what I wanted to.

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Flogging a Dead Horse

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Big Brother finished last week but to be honest this was the first year when I really didn’t notice it very much at all. And despite the miserable weather we’ve had on the Isles this summer I wasn’t the only one, who didn’t give a damn as BR points out. With Celebrity BB getting (mercifully) canned and ITV’s reality TV shows getting either discontinued or pulling in less viewers, has the bubble burst for reality TV? Maybe.

The age-old condition of being fascinated in others’ lives and the modern condition of seeking the 14:59 of fame will continue to fuel the desire to have this type of programming, but the novelty is obviously wearing off, and the celebrity obsession that drives things like I’m a Celebrity, Love Island etc may be on the shakiest ground. Watching people just be people may not be enough now for the mainstream.

Niche made-for-web or mobile content that supports larger broadcast driven shows may well be the answer, a move that ‘regular’ TV series such as Heroes and Smallville (2 of my absolute favorites) have explored with increasing popularity. Where are the Joneses is also another great take on how to make things fresh by taking a slightly different angle.

TV production companies may have to learn the lesson that you can’t please all the people all the time. Pick your posse and please them. What an alliteration!

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A little while back, Will noted us as one of the blogs that makes him think. So as is the custom, we’re going to tell you about the blogs that we read, and suggest you read them as well.

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Adliterate: Richard Huntington always comes at things from an angle that make you think ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’. If there was ever a blog to take notes to while reading, this is it.

Amelia: One of our most visited blogs, Amelia writes superbly on life in London and in digital, two things which are converging faster than you think.

Crackunit: Iain blogs in a very visual way and is a standard bearer for the digital world. Read often.

Dead Insect: Anthony writes really well and is super cool to hang out with. He’s just gone freelance, so I’d expect a ton of really good stuff up on his blog as he navigates adland sans agency.

Faris: No introduction needed. The crown prince of Naked.

Make Marketing History: John has a superb way of cutting through the crap and getting straight to the heart of a matter. And he’s one of the funniest guys you will meet.

Nicola Davies: A fresh perspective on all things communications related, with a particular focus on digital. And she went to Aston. So you know she’s awesome at what she does.

Punk Planning: THE man. Simple. You can talk to him about anything, and I always learn something from talking to Charles.

Russell Davies: For many of us, a major influence in starting a blog. Always thought provoking.

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