Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An ad guru pontificates

(Okay, it wasn't Jennifer Aniston, but no more hints.)

A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article promised us "three gurus from the generation of advertising" debating "how best to sell soap in a post-TV world."  And at least two of the three so-called gurus were thought-provoking.  The third, a chief creative officer of an international "hot" shop, was often more cringe-inducing, with comments that reflected an astonishing lack of understanding about advertising's history and a mindless regurgitation of the typical hipster cynicism.  

For instance, here he talks about how the dwindling effectiveness of network TV advertising in a society transformed by "a multiplicity of screens:"
It used to be really easy for us to advertise anything because consumers had no idea what they were buying. We could basically sell them whatever we wanted. But the Internet has made everything so transparent.
Really?  You could sell them whatever you wanted?  Tell that to the makers of Billy Beer.  Or New Coke.  Or any of these infamous products.

Later, this neo-guru extolls the virtues of online consumer feedback over traditional research methods:
The feedback you get, though, is so much richer and more immediate than what we used to get. In focus groups, there’s always one guy who sort of steals the room, so you wind up getting his opinion and no one else’s. On YouTube, you put your ad up, and right away you can read the comments. It’s such a democracy.
Apparently, it hasn't occurred to him to wonder if the the same people are are bothering to post on YouTube wouldn't be the same ones to monopolize the discussions in focus groups.  (I don't have the answer, but it's a valid question, isn't it?)

Next, he parrots that usual knock against the industry that, even as a joke, has become tiring:
We used to joke that advertising was “lying for a living.” We got away with that back then. We can’t anymore. And now, if we get caught in a lie, we’re in trouble.
Right.  Everybody was lying back then -- or would have been, but for FTC regulations, the Better Business Bureau and industry codes of ethics.  Does advertising tell every side of the story, negative as well as positive?  Of course not -- the idea is to present your product in the best possible light (without misrepresenting it), and, shockingly, that's still going on today -- even in new media.

Finally, in a hypothetical discussion of how to sell Katie Couric in the digital age, our guru explains the need to expand her presence into a variety of new media, and not just rely on her CBS news program viewership.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but considering the above pearls of wisdom, I'm not so sure he realizes what he's said:
You can’t turn her into Walter Cronkite. That model’s dead.
"And that's the way it is."

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