The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

There was a time when he believed. And not just because he wanted to believe, but because he really did believe. There was a time when he truly thought that things were always getting better, that the world was a remarkable place where fascinating things happened, every second. He believed that science had a heart, that progress had a conscience, and that true art happened in the last synapse before epiphany, in the unstoppable momentum of an original idea. And for awhile others believed it too, because of him. It wasn’t that he was in denial about the horrors of everyday life–the wars, the greed, the natural disasters, the backward thinking morality of the masses. He just chose to seek out and revel in the progressive, the enlightened, the smallest things that could spark a flame under the ass of change. Then there was a time when, although he still believed, he began to acknowledge the difficulties. He began to recognize that such grand dreams were not so easily overcome. And he began to acknowledge this in his speeches and presentations. He began to criticize the present, and he warned of a more damaged tomorrow if we refused to change. He gave heads-ups and watch-outs, supported by facts and scientifically validated forecast and cautionary tales.

When it was suggested that he might want to put a bit more of a smile back on his work, because clients were complaining, because people were asking for other speakers, his first reaction was to go shock them into epiphany. But that didn’t work at all. People didn’t want wisdom, he soon discovered. They wanted shortcuts to getting more. For a while his clients, other than small liberal art colleges, not-for-profits, and those who hadn’t done their homework, stopped asking for him altogether. His message didn’t match the extravagent, NASDAQ-giddy times. There wasn’t any momentum to it, any positive inevitiabilities. It lacked anything close to a guarantee that the prosperity would never end.

So he altered his approach again. He avoided the dismal truths, the warnings about doomsdays yet to come, and the tried to be encouraging. But they didn’t buy that either. Clients found it patronizing, condescending. It came off more like a lecture than a speech. More like a reason to feel guilty than a reason to be excited.

Finally the think tank threatened to drop him. The lecture agent stopped taking his calls. The press rarely mentioned him. So he changed again. He began telling people what they wanted to hear. He began to customize this optimism to specific industries, specific companies, specific versions of tomorrow. And this is important: he wasn’t lying, at first. The main difference was that he was telling only the good parts, the truths they wanted to hear. The bad parts he left out entirely. It was easy. Appearance after appearance, everyone ate it up, and soon he was a player again. He got a new lecture agent; the think tank gave him his own subbrand. His appearance fees tripled, and he was a rock star in the arena of what-if. Everything was great, as long as he didn’t think about it too much.

But he did. Eventually Lauren stopped listening to what he had to say, because it was all the same, all a bit too good. His father, who had never taken his job seriously began to think that these prophecies were borderline delusional–at least, that’s what his mother told him. Blevin’s reaction to his latest reincarnation was to try to steer Yates back toward the material that had attracted him to Yates in the first place. But that didn’t work, and for awhile, until Johannesburg, Belvin questioned Yates less and less and could hardly look him in the eye when Yates asked his opinions of his latest insights. The only people who loved what Yates was saying were the people for whom he had less and less repect, including himself.

Then the stock market collapsed, the Internet frenzy cooled, and buildings and bombs started to fall, and he didn’t have any new wisdom to truth or reason to believe that he could honestly tell anyone anymore. And the only way he could come up with a way to make people feel good, to tell them what they wanted to hear, was to start making things up.

-From The Futurist: A Novel by James Othmer (p188-190)

Insights Are Better Than Ideas

DDB Worldwide recently published a “yellow paper” titled Insights that Incite (hat tip:PSFK). The gist of their “brochure” is that it is hard to break through all the clutter and you need to find something unique and unexpected to change how people think about your brand—pretty much what you would expect from an ad agency.

This reference though reminded me how much I love the word insight, something I owe to former BBDO chairman and agency man Phil Dusenberry. He had the best definition I have ever heard for insights in his 2005 book Then We Set His Hair on Fire:

In this book, I have stressed the difference between ideas and insights. Ideas are a dime a dozen; anyone can have them. They can be good or bad ideas, saving your hide in some cases, wasting your time in others. The best thing about a good idea is that it forces you to act. Insight is rarer, and infinitely more precious. A strong insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand reasons to act and make something happen. That, more than anything, should be your reason to fight and persevere for your own insight moment. When you are armed with a powerful insight, the ideas never stop flowing.

Think about the really great business concepts. Porter’s Five Forces Model is an insight. Each one of Covey’s Seven Habits is an insight. Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, the title of one of the definitive books on GE, is one of many insights Jack Welch used when he was CEO of the company.

If ideas are intellectual lightbulbs, insights are 10,000 watt searchlights. Insights illuminate a wide range of paths to take. They provide the “why” which lead you to a plenitude of “hows.”


Side note: Then We Set His Hair On Fire didn’t sell well in hardcover and was released in paperback under the title One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas. Even with the better title, the book has some identity problems. At times, it is a biography and at other times a how-to with case studies. If you can look past those conflicts, you’ll hear the inside stories of brands built like Pepsi, Visa, and FedEx. Dusenberry’s book is one of my favorites of the last five years.

Boom Goes The Resume

Seth has a great post up titled Why bother having a resume?

There is something comfortable about the standards of a resume. You know how to fill in the blanks. The format has already been worked out. The only question left is if you are going to send it in a Rich Text Format or Word Document.

If you blow up the resume, the questions are wonderfully endless.

  • What I am going to say?
  • How I am going to say it?
  • Is this really what I want to do?

I was describing my career to someone last week and realized the textbook method doesn’t really explain who I am or what I want to do next. Today, I was looking at the description at the top of my tumblr blog and came to the same conclusion.

Every person is a sum of their experiences and certainly my mechanical engineering degree and the time at General Electric is important, but there are a whole set of new things that show better what I can do and want to do with my time.

This image is from a document I turned in for a chance at an internship with Ben and Jackie from Church of the Customer. I always liked this representation, experiences overlaid and fading with time. That collage is three and a half years old and would look quite different today.


As I look at the things that I am interested in now, there are seeds in those past projects and positions, but they would be hard to see through bullet points and required corporate speak of a standard resume.

This post should not be considered by anyone reading that I am looking for a new corporate home. Seth’s post just made me think about the stories we tell other about what we do, both in form and content.

What are advertisers thinking?

As the football season approaches again, we undoubtedly see the rise in really bad advertising. JaffeJuice was talking about ads companies shouldn’t run and got me thinking more about this.

Yesterday, I saw my first Coors ad of the new season. It was playing off the famous Seinfeld episode “The Implant” (Terri Hatcher ends it with the line–“They’re real and they are spectacular”). It is amazing the difference context makes. I think the Coors ad is a bunch of sexist crap. What is sad is the ad is for a somewhat cool innovation – your 18 plastic bottles come in a plastic box, in which you can just throw ice and be ready to go.

My wife always telling me that I am not the target for those advertisements. She is right, but I think fewer people are willing to listen to messages like the one Coors to playing.

Great Minds Think Alike

It seems Wall Street Journal writers Kate Kelly and Brian Steinberg share some of the same thoughts I do on media brands.

Yesterday, they wrote a piece [pg B2, sub. needed] on the upcoming break-up of Miramax Films and Disney. They think that Miramax has developed a recognizable brand and that moviegoers went to theatres to see Miramax films. They called out Pixar and Dreamworks as other brands people are starting to recognize in the media realm.

I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago directly in reference to Pixar. I don’t think Dreamworks fits the bill, because I am not sure what to expect from them. They make all different types of movies. The Speilberg connection definitely helps though.

Miramax might be a better example. I personally don’t go running to see their films, but I do know they take more risks with their films. Here is a list of current and recent films from the studio:

Disney must think there is something to it. They are paying the Weinstein brothers $140 million to keep the name.

Advertising is Dead?

It has been a long time since the Daily Picks on My Yahoo! page dished out something interesting for me.

This morning they delivered me IHAVEANIDEA.

Founder Ignacio Oreamuno says:

They say all revolutions are started by dreamers.

If this is true, “I Have An Idea” is one long dream. We vow not to rest until we make drastic and constructive changes in the advertising industry. Why? Because the advertising industry we want to work for doesn’t yet exist.

Good starting point.

Filling the Gap

WSJ put some numbers to my post about competitors moving to fill the Vioxx gap.

At stake: Vioxx’s $2.5 billion in 2003 sales. Marketers have only a brief opportunity to pounce. “People are going to go with something in 10 days, whatever period, two weeks. How long do you wait?” asks John V. Allen of Lippincott Mercer, a brand consultant. As long as would-be substitutes refrain from pointing fingers at Merck, he says, they shouldn’t raise hackles.

And here are the pitches the alternatives are using:

  • “Don’t Let The Recent News About Your Arthritis Medicine Stop You From Treating Your Arthritis Pain” — Tylenol Arthritis Pain
  • “With All The Recent News On Prescription Vioxx, You May Be Asking What The Right Pain Reliever Is For You.” — Advil
  • “Celebrex has been making people with pain and arthritis feel better for years. And now we want to ease your mind too.” — Celebrex
  • “If You Were Prescribed VIOXX For Your OSTEOARTHRITIS or RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS Ask Your Doctor If Mobic Is Right For You.” — Mobic


There is a Q&A with Jerry Seinfeld in WSJ today [sub. needed]. The questions were under the heading “Creativity”.

This is the best exchange:

WSJ: Most ad folks think the 30-second commercial is the optimal format. Your “Webisode” lasts for several minutes. Do consumers have that long an attention span?

Mr. Seinfeld: There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have infinite attention if you are entertaining them.

More Signs Things Are Changing.

On the top of B1 in the WSJ today, there is an article titled, “For Big Marketers Like AmEx, TV Ads Lose Starring Role.”* Big companies are starting to spend their money in other places. This isn’t huge surprise, but the article give some insight into what the big guys are thinking. This from AmEx chief marketing officer John Hayes when he addressed NBC’s ad salesforce:

Your business model needs to change…It used to be that we bought time, shipped you the commercials, had lunch or a glass of wine together once in awhile; you took care of the quality of programming and we made sure the check did not bounce. We all sat back, checked the ratings , watched our business grow…those days are woefully over.

The article reports that TV ads now account for only 25% of total ad expenditures. Here are other ways they are spending their money: Jerry Seinfeld/Superman webisodes (here was my post on that from Brand Week), an touring photo exhibit of classic photos from past ads, and sponsorship of the Sheryl Crow Central Park concert.

*subscription needed

Please stop the madness

I am in San Diego with the family visiting my wife’s sister. We took America West on our flight out here. When it was time for the drink service, this is what we found:

Tonight, it was advertising throughout the menu during our visit to The Cheesecake Factory.

I wish I could be left alone and have some peace and quiet.

Attention decision makers – the additional revenue is not worth it. I am starting to choose products and services based on the fact that I only get the product or service.

Please leave me alone.

Thank you.

Oscars becoming a commercial event

Maybe someone is listening.

Last month, we were talking about Super Bowl Ads and Abnu from Wordlab thought Madison Avenue should take notice of the huge audience they have for the Oscars.

I watched the first 30 minutes of the Academy Awards last night and there were a few companies that rollled out new advertising. The first commercial was a Diet Pepsi spot. It featured Jason Biggs at an Oscar party with some friends. Next was a HP + Fender ad with lots of kids trying to play “Smoke on the Water”. There may have been other ads.

Now, we just need the media to jump on the bandwagon and start talking about all of the cool ads the next day.