Change is fun. Or at least fun to argue about. A month ago we had Chris Anderson, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell debating the logic of the “free economy.” Anderson argues that everything will be free. Godin declares it already is. Gladwell reminds everyone that no one’s making money so the model put forth by Anderson is unsustainable.
Now this month we have the release of Bob Garfield’s The Chaos Scenario. It’s part Groundswell, part Chris Brogan, part Clay Shirky. The controversial (to some) Ad Age columnist lets us know that old media is dead, digital changes everything, and we have to listen. Listenomics he calls it. So if you’re among those who haven’t been listening, say to David Armano, Danny Brown, Jeremiah Owyang or Chris Brogan, to name but a few, you can find a synthesis of all that’s been said already on social media blogs consolidated nicely into one, very well-written book. One thing about Garfield, the man can write. No shortage of active verbs and pithy sentences in this book. Here he is talking about the advertising specialty item.
“Not that the 30-second spot represents high culture, exactly, but it’s hard for mere words to convey how déclassé is the advertising-speciality niche. Still, I’ll try: They are the white-belt/white shoes Full Cleveland of marketing. In a digital world, advertising specialities are as analog as you can possible get.”
“Honey, get rid of those refrigerator magnets. Bob says they’re déclassé.”
But wait, there’s more. Jeff Goodby, the legendary founder and chief creative of one the world’s most awarded advertising agencies, has weighed in. Fortunately, Jeff lets us know that despite Garfield’s doom and gloom scenario ad agencies really don’t have to worry. Why? Because lots of people are working on morphing advertising into something that people will actually want to experience and seek out.
Here’s Jeff: “There is simply too much money and corporate energy devoted to this cause for those budgets, and hopes, to disappear overnight. There will be no “Post-apocalyptic Post-Advertising Age,” as Garfield calls it.
Jeff goes on. “Not only that, but I firmly believe we don’t want to be advertised to in private, with nothing to discuss around the water cooler. We like the social interaction of enjoying or hating these ham-fisted corporate efforts together.”
While it’s not a very confident-boosting argument, a lot of agency people will breathe easy this week. After all, it’s Jeff Goodby.
Anyone paying attention has to agree with Garfield, even the ad folks who’ve been the brunt of his hold-no-punches critiques. The mass media advertising model is dying fast. Look at your own habits. When’s the last time you actually watched a TV spot on television? I watch them on YouTube.
Then again, there is some validity to Jeff’s defense of ad agencies. The fact is we’re well on our way to having so many communities, YouTube videos and social media exchanges that we’re quickly moving from conversation to cacophony. Eventually what will stand out from the noise will be great content and creative ideas. Sure they may be crowdsourced, user generated, and closer to the production quality of the typical YouTube video, but regardless they will need to be interesting, memorable and emotional. And guess who knows how to do that? Creative agencies like Goodby Silverstein and Partners. They’ll certainly be among those who figure out how to create, source, inspire and distribute that kind of content. Maybe they’ll do it themselves; perhaps they’ll simply become curators, brokers or the teachers for many individuals learning to do it themselves. These companies may look different, but they’ll still be around.
But Jeff’s also wrong. We may want to share a common experience as he suggests, but we don’t need advertising to give it to us. We can create it ourselves. Think green avatar. Or the fact that we were as likely to take in Michael Jackson’s unexpected death on Twitter as on television. We, the consumer, want control, participation, and a relationship with each other regarding the brands we care about. We don’t want a pre-packaged message. And so far, most agencies only excel at the latter.
Finally, if advertising does survive, it won’t be the money and corporate energy that saves it. Reinvention will come from the efforts of individuals, developers and startups that understand the new intersection of consumers, content and technology. It will come from learning to leverage the capabilities of companies like Kluster, which can allegedly crowdsource creative decision making; the Morphic Group, whose utility and applications are potentially more creative than messages; and Aerva, a firm that can give content creators access to any screen anywhere.
Staying in business will have less to do with money and energy than it will in staying curious and open-minded. That’s why I’m reading both Garfield and Goodby. Who do you think’s right?