Enlightened Conflict

communications, advertising & the battle for truth

December 6th, 2016

 

everybody needs what i am selling deserve life

————————–

 

“Forget words like ‘hard sell’ and ‘soft sell.’

That will only confuse you.

 

Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before.”

 

=

David Ogilvy

 

———————

 

“If you try to comprehend air before breathing it, you will die.”

 

=

Mark Nepo

 

—————

 

“Seeking truth is a full time job.

Communicating truth is a purpose in Life.

Embrace that truth and your Life will be significantly more complicated, but significantly more rewarding.”

 

=

Bruce McTague

 

——————–

 

Well.

 

Communicating has always been a tough gig but in today’s world it has taken on liaran increased challenge.

 

I scan headlines in magazines and online and I cannot see one topic being discussed, one industry or any one group of influential type people that isn’t under attack by ‘lack of trust’ or, in other words, ‘liars.’

 

What that means is anything you are communicating isn’t starting from a commodity standpoint <all facts and truths are created equal> but rather you are already in a hole trying to climb out of ‘prove to me this is not a lie.’

 

Truth has never had a more difficult challenge than today. This may sound odd because common sense suggests truth is truth and, unvarnished, stands clear of any and all clutter as … well … truth.

Unfortunately that is not … well … true.

Truth, more often than not, is a wallflower and not the one breakdancing in the middle of the room. The schlub doing the crazy dance alone, being watched by everyone, is more likely a lie or a semi/partial truth. You have to coax truth to the dance floor. Someone has to bring it out into the audience and permit it to be seen.

 

Truth telling is hard work. It is not for the faint of heart. Seeking truth is a full time job <which most people, frankly, just do not have the time to do as they do their paid full time job>.

And communicating truth has to be a purpose in one’s life in order to meet the onslaught of untruths, purposeful ignorance, unintended ignorance, semi-truths and … well … cynicism.

 

To be clear.

 

I do not believe we are in some ‘post truth world.’

Nor do I believe what someone said “there are no facts anymore.”

 

Facts are facts and truth is truth.

There may be some confusion around this but … of all industries … advertising and marketing communications people had sure as shit better be fucking clear on this … or they are in deep shit.

 

Anyone in the professional communications business had better be absolutely fucking clear that communicating today ain’t like communicating yesterday … or they are in deep shit.

 

While I believe business, in general, benefits if they start on day one embracing the thought they are in the decommoditization business <rather than in the ‘uniqueness business’> I believe communications would benefit by embracing the thought they are in the ‘establishing truths’ business.

 

Look <part 1>.

 

Advertising, marketing and all of professional communications is in a challenging position. Challenging in that businesses spend money on marketing & advertising most typically to sell shit. Therefore its main goal is to … well … sell nothing in boxes business selling stuff capitalismshit.

 

This means that if I represent a product and its main buying audience is white, male & blue collar <or pick any demographically based segment> … I am going to use imagery and words that will appeal to them <sometimes to the detriment to other audiences who are less likely to buy your shit>.

 

Now.

 

Of course you want to do it with style and substance and some sense of responsibility <not be stupid>. So any advertising person with any chops <any good> will figure out a way of not doing the stupid shit to sell shit.

Even then … your audience is your audience and while we would like to suggest everything is made to be created with a larger purpose of ‘bettering the world’ … to a business who only has maybe $1000 to market something <or some finite budget amount> that $1000 is spent on selling shit and not ‘bettering the world.’

 

Simplistically … you sell to the people who will buy or have bought.

 

Simplistically … you sell to those people who will buy in the most effective way so that they will actually buy.

 

I say hat because someone on the outside looking in can take apart imagery & words and make some very valid points with regard to the kinds of messages they send … but marketing people & advertising people are under a lot of pressure to sell shit. And, remember, they are in the service business … they ultimately do not do anything but ‘strategically create persuasive creations’… and a business makes the decision on whether what they create will actually be produced and put in front of people.

 

And here is where the communications folk can get a little sideways. They focus on imagery & words & ‘attention’ with the intent to gain interest … not specifically sell shit. And they ignore truth as … well … too complicated & too complex. And it is quite possible we communications folk may have gotten away with that in the past, but in today’s world, sure as shit, you better be grounded in hard, clear truth or you are gonna get screwed.

 

Look <part 2>.

 

In the good ole days … truth was appreciated, but aspirational sold.

 

sell hope i canWell.

 

That was before we all got a good dose of cynicism and started drinking from the fountain of untruths.

Messages are everywhere and simply suggesting you were offering truth because “you’re too clever to fall for manipulation” gave people permission to at least think you were offering truth.

No more my friends.

While aspirational drives value, lack of truth suffocates value into nothingness.

This doesn’t mean there will not be a boatload of products and services who make a sale standing on the superficial surface of irrelevant, but appealing, value. But that will be the geography populated by the hacks.

This truth thing may not be a battle which some people want to fight. And that is okay. But someone has to or the entire industry will become … well … irrelevant. If no one tells the truth then why would I listen to anyone.

I, personally, am not suggesting ditching aspirational but I am suggesting that truth, communicating the truth in a away that people actually believe it is true, is the key to future success.

 

Look <part 3>

 

I have worked in and out of the marketing and advertising business for <yikes> over 30 years so I feel like I have some qualifications to comment on the industry.

 

Everyone on the outside of the advertising business looking in thinks those creating the advertising think about shit that … well … truthfully … advertising people actually never waste their time thinking about.

 

And everyone inside the advertising business thinks about more shit than people outside the advertising could ever imagine they think about.we all scream for the truth

 

Suffice it to say I could gather up examples of advertising using material over 20 years and make pretty much any point I want to make – good, bad, absurd, true, untrue, semitruthful, smart, insightful or blatantly uninsightful.

 

Anyway.

 

Here is a communications truth — perception is not reality.

 

The perception is that advertising makes shit up, makes stupid vapid shit and says nothing <as much as possible> and if they do say something it is a lie and, ultimately, they try and make people feel something <to sell>.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth <with the non hacks>.

 

The problem in advertising typically arises when the ad creators struggle to articulate the benefit <or convince themselves that it is ‘non differentiating’ and then seek to ‘differentiate’ in some form or fashion>.

 

It then can unravel from there because the ‘go-to’ phrase at this point in time is ‘do something brave’ … or ‘entertaining’ or ‘edgy’ <notice nowhere in there is “smart, insightful, thoughtful, truth”>.

 

Sure.

 

Great advertising messaging always is, and will be, imbued with some sense of courage.

 

Why?

 

Because if you want to be distinct you will not please everyone.

Because if you want to tell the truth you will not please everyone.

 

on-top-of-the-worldThe hack advertising people use the ‘do something brave’ phrase indiscriminately to justify bad advertising.

 

The good advertising people use this phrase to do something smart in order to not be different but stand ABOVE everyone else.

 

Yup.

 

Huge difference.

 

Hacks say ‘stand apart.’

 

Non hacks say ‘stand above.’

 

And this is where I imagine articles about advertising should focus their attention on.

 

Why doesn’t the advertising stand above <and not be below what is good & right & untrue>.

 

Advertising should be smart and not talk down to people but actually enable them to rise up to the occasion … and FEEL like they are rising up to engage with that brand or company.

 

Communications should be truthful, regardless whether it is simple or complex, and enable people to be able to FEEL truth in such a way that doubts about that brand or company are swept away.

few thinking and feeling

And it all has to be done with an eye toward ‘decommoditizing’ or being distinct in some meaningful way <because truth, in and of itself, is not a differentiator>.

 

Advertising cannot be dull and uninspired … and you cannot use a small budget as an excuse.

 

In fact … the truth is that a limited budget is typically what drives innovative advertising.

Yup.

Inspired smart creativity tends to make each dollar be more effective <hence you can live with a smaller budget>.

 

In other words … a smart, insightful, relevant, entertaining ad will be more memorable than a typical ‘category using sacred cow imagery’ ad therefore it needs to be seen less for the same effect.

 

Oh.

And if you add in ‘truth’ <in a way in which you aren’t just communicating it but people actually BELIEVE it>, your communications is more memorable, more believable, can be seen less for the same effect … and is, of course, of higher value.

 

By the way … smart means not any obvious photoshopping or any exaggerated ridiculous claims or just plain inaccurate information or anything fluffed up or untrue.

 

By the way … smart means avoiding stereotypes, typecasting and idiotic generalizations and lies.

 

Note to advertising people:

We can see through those slimy tactics. Realize consumers are people … people who are smart and informed.

Make me aware of a product.

Educate me.

Relate to me.

Tell me the Truth.

 

Regardless.

 

 ===

 

“A dull truth will not be looked at.

An exciting lie will.

 

That is what good, sincere people must understand. They must make their truth exciting and new, or their good works will be born dead.”

 

==

Bill Bernbach

 

——-

 

Truth is truth.

 

Lies are lies.

 

Responsibility is responsibility.

 

And if you do not accept your responsibility to tell the truth as excitingly and politics lies and truth and repeatingconvincingly as you possibly can … lies will win.

 

If you choose to vulgarize the society or brutalize it … or even ignore it <all under the guise of ‘understanding what the consumer wants’> … society will lose.

 

I honestly do not despair when I look at business in today’s world … or even marketing & advertising behavior.

 

I get aggravated.

 

No.

 

I get angry.

I get angry that we are not accepting the responsibility.

I get angry that we are not strong enough to accept the burden.

I get angry that many do not even presume the responsibility is within their purview.

 

Business, whether you like it or not, shapes society. Business, whether you like it or not, shapes truth.

 

What we do matters.

 

Selling stuff doesn’t matter.

It only matters as a means to an end.

 

What really matters is the shaping of attitudes <which ultimately shapes behavior>.

 

Far too often by simply focusing on ‘selling stuff’ the byproduct of our ignoring the larger responsibility is that we brutalizing society in some form or fashion – in this case and in this time and place … it would be truth we are brutalizing.

 

Am I suggesting that selling stuff or being profitable isn’t important? Of course not.

 

All I am suggesting is that HOW you sell stuff and be profitable matters.

And that you have a responsibility in HOW you do what you do.

 

Because HOW you do things impacts society.

It shapes society. It can vulgarize or brutalize … or invigorate or instill good.

 

HOW you do things has a power way beyond simply you or what you do in that moment.

 

HOW you do things is a pebble dropping into a pond.

 

In the end.

 

I will not argue that all advertising is good.

I will not argue that all professional communications is good.

A lot of it is shit.

 

But I will argue that good communications & advertising people, not hacks, are smart and tend to create smart insightful educating communication pieces that avoid the trite and stereotyping imagery and focus on telling the truth, if not A real truth, rather than lie or some semi truth.

 

I would also argue that good communications & advertising people, not hacks, have the opportunity to save truth in today’s society.

telling-truth-piss-you-off

I think many of the world’s institutions are embattled but the one that concerns me the most is Truth.

The institution of truth is under siege.

I can honestly say I don’t think most who are attacking truth are trying to facilitate its downfall … most are simply unclear what is truth and what is not. I believe anyone in any position of influence should be proactively assuming the burdensome responsibility of telling and protecting truth <that will come at an expense> but today … I think the professional communications industry should be at the forefront of the battle.

 

Why?

 

They get paid to communicate. If they cannot figure out how to effectively communicate truth, who can?

 

They must … must make their truth exciting and new, or their good works will be born dead. Uhm. And lies will win.

seek_truth

===

About the author:

I am a 50something who believes my generation hollowed out Truth by simplistically suggesting truth was best told through simplicity.

Truth is neither simple nor hollow.

I have had one framed picture in my office since maybe 2000: Seek Truth.

 

a wrong turn

February 6th, 2016

field of sun flowers===

 

“A wrong turn lead me to a field of flowers and suddenly I’m second guessing every wrong turn in my life.”

 

———

Source: a thousand words tumblr

 

===

 

 

Well.

 

 

I have never analyzed nor have I seen any research with regard to how much time we use to plan out the ‘right moves’ to make in our careers and lives. I planned what happenedimagine, if a study were done, between consciously planning and the ‘in the moment analysis’ planning … those two ‘life plannings’ would represent some inordinately absurd amount of our time.

 

 

When I saw this thought on athousandwords I began thinking about how often most of us attach ‘bad’ to wrong turns and how less often we attach ‘good’ to wrong turns.

 

 

Simplistically we attach wrong to bad.

 

 

Wrong turn = Bad choice/decision

 

 

Sure.

 

Sometimes that is true.

 

 

But I think I could argue that a wrong turn simply puts you in some place you hadn’t planned on <and you assume the plan was a good plan because … well … you had planned it>. Therefore the unplanned place is a bad place because it … well … was an unplanned place <some circular logic which seems kind of doomed to conclude bad even if it may actually be good>.

 

 

Setting aside the whole planning thing … turns are part of life.

leading one way

Life is not one huge straight boulevard you place your car on and start driving.

 

Life is more often like seemingly random patchwork of inner city streets with dead ends, one ways and no left hand turns which seemingly are only placed at only the intersections which you had planned to make a left hand turn.
Whether you plan the shit out of your life or not we all make a shitload of turns in Life.

 

Some are planned.

 

Some are unplanned.

 

Some you have the time to invest a lot of time thinking about.

 

Some you cannot invest a lot of time thinking about.

 

Some end up in a good place.

 

Some end up in a bad place.

 

 

I imagine my only point is that sometimes, maybe more often than you think, a wrong turn puts you in a different better more interesting place. A wrong turn exposes you to something you maybe never imagined you would ever see, ever face or ever think about. And that is the ultimate value of a wrong turn.

 

 

It exposes you to something beyond the plan you ever envisioned.

 

I don’t propose building a Life around a disproportionate amount of purposeful wrong turning. field dirt road sunset

 

That kind of seems a little chaotic and absolutely suggests a shitload of wasted time & energy.

 

 

However.

 

Maybe we think about Life more as a shitload of turns … just a blanket ‘shitload’ … instead of categorizing them simply as right turns & wrong turns.

Turns are turns and more often than not they don’t lead you some place you can never leave they simply lead you to some place.

what hath america wrought

October 22nd, 2015

ideas urinal

Aici lo tems s’en , va res l’Eternitat.”

<here, in this place, time moves away toward eternity>

====

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper. “

T.S Eliot

<“The Hollow Men”>

=====

“Has it been in your experience that one’s affairs are always in order and that all life’s conundrums will eventually be made clear?”

David Stone

====

 

 

 

Well.

 

what hath god wrought

 

It is always interesting to read a historical book <What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe> and look at what is happening in today’s world.

 

 

Historical note on the title of the book.

 

 

The first telegraph message, sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, was “What hath God wrought?”

 

 

At over 900 pages and pretty academic in its detail and narrative … this book is not for the faint of heart <but very interesting if you can wade through it>. The book is heavy on political history and the role politics & government played, and didn’t play, in the transformation of American society.

 

 

Simplistically you see that government has always been functionally dysfunctional constantly lurching through the decisions a country needs to make as it struggles with private versus public, growth and the well-being of its citizens <all within a Constitutional construct>.

 

 

In addition … in looking at that one particularly period of history we see everything was magnified, or amplified, by developments in communications <mails, newspaper, books, and telegraph> and mobility/transportation <trains, steamboats, canals, and roads>.

 

 

Uhm.

 

Isn’t that what technology & the internet is doing today?

 

 

 

And that magnification created the same issues we seem to discuss today:

traffic hurry disconnectd going

 

–      In 1846 Philip Hone wondered if the rapid pace of change threatened cherished values …

“everything goes fast nowadays, even the winds have begun to improve upon the speed with they have hitherto maintained; everything goes ahead but good manners and sound principles.”

 

 

 

They discussed the delicate balance of empowerment and responsibility within the citizenship … the power of government to enable individualism all the while encouraging the citizenship to use their liberty & freedoms to seek improvement.

 

 

 

–      John Quincy Adams stated …

“Liberty is power and the citizens have a responsibility to use their freedom.
The spirit of improvement is abroad upon the earth. Let not foreign nations with less liberty exceed us in ‘pubic improvement’ … to do so would ‘cast away the bounties of providence’ and doom what should become the world’s most powerful nation ‘to perpetual inferiority.’

 
Even in religious environments ‘responsible capitalism’ was discussed:

 

 

 

–      As the author points out … even in 1826 preachers were teaching …

“work hard, be thrifty, save your money, don’t go into debt, be honest in business dealings, don’t screw down the wages of those who work for you to the lowest possible level, if you manage a surplus be faithful stewards of your bounty and generous to causes.“

 

 

 

 

All the foundation things of capitalism done the right way and economic growth without sacrificing values to a better society.

 

 

 

The book does a nice job reminding everyone of the challenges any government faces.

 

 

–      Tocqueville expresses concern with the future of a democratic government.sheep

“… it rarely forces one to act but it constantly opposes itself to one’s action; it does not destroy it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize , it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces the nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”

 

 

 

Mostly, as I read about a country’s transformation, I was reminded that change is never easy and in the midst of progress you do right things and wrong things and there are consequences for all <and you inevitably have an opportunity to ‘wrong the rights & right the wrongs’>.

 

 

It reminded me that we all adapt.

 

 

Countries also. Just look at capitalism.

 

 

America developed a prosperous example for capitalism and ultimately exported the example. Other countries then adapted the idea creating a customized capitalism to accommodate their needs, wants and desires <which, by the way, may not match America’s>.

 

 

Yes.

 

 

America exported capitalism …. not values or rights <or democracy>.

 

Economics is what inevitably changed behavior because as country leaders desired people to be more productive <so they could be more competitive globally> they inevitably had to give them more rights, liberties and avenues to do so.

 

 

This means that the expansion of rights was driven by economics … and only curbed by that particular country’s government ideology <or the country’s overall culture>.

 

 

I mention that because we Americans tend to look outwards with a sense of righteousness … and the outside world states unequivocally … I do not want to be exactly like you.

being yourself cahnging

 

 

I struggle to understand why we in America don’t get this.

 

Our book stores and amazon are strewn with self-help books shouting “being yourself … don’t be someone else!”“learn from the best but be nobody but yourself.’

 

 

In other words … learn the shared learning and implement as an individual.

 

 

Well.

 

 

Are countries really any different? Why wouldn’t we expect another country to want to maintain its own character and way of doing things?

 

 

In addition.

 

 

The book reminded me how grumpy I get with people who continuously claim <loudly> that America is declining <i.e., going into the shithole>.

 

 

I never really thought of us as a country of whiners, pessimists and blamers <finger pointers>.

 

 

Context and perspective … the book once again reminded me of this from a historical perspective.

 

 

The book reminded me that in the 19th century there was a relatively balanced global power <hmmmmmmmmmmm … kind of like where we may be heading today?>. Oh, and yes, there was a ‘global economy’ at that time.

 

 

And the 21st century began with an extraordinary imbalance in world power.

 

 

The United States was the only country able to project military force globally, it represented more than a quarter of the world economy and had the world’s leading “soft-power resources” in its universities and entertainment industry.

 

 

America didn’t purposefully build the imbalance … the imbalance was opportunistic and reflective of contextual situations.

 

 

What that means is that no one truly knows much about social engineering and how to “build nations.”

 

The transformation of America in the 1800’s certainly reminded me of that.

 

At times it appears like America reached its strength position despite itself.

 

 

Therefore … if we cannot be sure how to ‘build a nation’ or have some formula to improve the world hubris is dangerous. It certainly seems like what is required is a careful understanding of the context of change.

 

 

Look.

 

 

Here is what I know <and believe>.

 

 

Anyone, and any country, will be successful if it finds its pride cloaked in humility <not hubris>.

 

 

I cannot remember where I found this quote but it seems to highlight what Americans should avoid at all costs <domestically as well as internationally>:

 

 

“Sweep in as if emissaries of light bringing salvation to the natives living in a dark forest. You think you are heroes because people ask for your help and advice. You think that worth works for you will automatically work for everyone else. Your teeth are whiter and your clothes are better and suddenly that permits you to be the ultimate arbiters of public morality.

You assume America, and capitalism, is the ultimate model and you end up judging everything simply by how close it comes to your own ideal. You begin to think you have carte blanche to remake whatever you want to remake in your own image.”

—-

Speaking of humility.

 

 

We, everyone in a country leadership role, lurch back and forth between what is right and what is wrong all the while every step taken on a path with a sign that says “what is best for the country & people this way.’

 

And each step nowadays seems to be burdened by this word ‘compromise.’

 

 

Compromise implies ‘giving up something that is right or the best.’

 

 

It seems like it would be better to recognize that there is no one right way and no one right answer in heading down this path … all head down the path … it is just an argument over what shoes I want to wear that particular day.

 

 

maybe we have no ideaAnd that is … well … it all seems just fucking insane.

 

 

It seems like maybe those spewing forth the idea that the other’s ideas are stupid and the path to greatness is ‘this way’ …and it is the only way … could drink from the cup of humility and accept that our past has certainly taught us that there is no one way nor right way.

 

 

Our past is strewn with greatness intermingled with some dark aspects.

 

 

Greatness doesn’t reside in our actions or accomplishments … it resides in one’s belief in hope & the future. Greatness resides in the ability to keep an eye on the horizon and the ability to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes not knowing where your foot will exactly land, on this path of ‘better.’

 

 

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson … “America is a country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”

 

 

 

 

Daniel Walker Howe writes on page 853 … “Americans live by hope for the future but their conflicting hopes for their country and their own lives provoke dissension.
Americans are constantly proposing new ideas and then wrangling over them.”

 

 

America is, and always has been, a country of the future.

 

 

America will, and always has, wrangled over ideas and hopes.

 

 

We always have and always will.

 

 

The moment we accept that, and embrace that, we accept dissension and accept that sometimes we will get it right … and sometimes we will get it wrong … because … well … while maybe being a great nation we are inevitably a great big group of people trying to do the best they can without having any specific formula for what to do.

 

 

The news of the decline & demise of America is tiring. Or maybe better said “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” <Mark Twain>.but yes ideas matters debate hugh

 

 

Frankly.

 

 

That’s why I hack my way through 900 page history books … to gain and maintain some perspective.

 

Sure.

 

Sometimes I learn something.

 

But mostly it gives me some perspective on what is happening today.
One last random thought.

 

 

 

I am not a speechwriter nor am I politician <most likely not qualified for either> … but … it slightly puzzles me that we don’t hear more Ralph Waldo Emerson or Adams or … well … many of the great American philosophical thinkers of the mid 1800’s quoted or used to make a point.

 

 

They had the ability to capture the American spirit, the American desire to ‘do things’, the American power of individualism and the American belief that government supports to ‘better.’

 

 

But, hey, that’s me.

And if they did … well … then I couldn’t use all their great words and I wouldn’t have a blog.

Enlightened Conflict