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.

scrap the plan for the day

July 30th, 2015

 

======

morning plans who i am

“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life.

Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto.

But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

Carl Gustav Jung

=====

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.

If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.

But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.

This makes it hard to plan the day.”

e.b. white

=====

“I’ve always liked the time before dawn because there’s no one around to remind me who I’m supposed to be so it’s easier to remember who I am.”

Brian Andreas

=======

 

 

Ok.

planned what happened

 

Plans.

 

 

Plans and planning are tricky things.

 

 

I tend to believe I could write a Life version of this and a Business version of this.

 

 

Today is Life.

 

 

I have written about ‘hard to plan a day’ before:

http://brucemctague.com/hard-to-plan-the-day

—-

 

 

This time I write more about scrapping plans and how difficult we make it to do so rather than discussing actually deciding what plan to have.

 

 

Let me begin with intentions.

 

We wake up.

 

 

busy making plans notebook
We decide to head off to change, or impact, the world in any way we choose to.

 

 

We may not ‘define’ our decision as impacting … it may simply be under the guise of ‘good shit to do today.’

 

 

This also means, unfortunately, we do have a tendency to think of daily plans as ‘doing tangible things’ rather than possibly judging our plan completion under some heading like ‘teaching someone how to do things with grace & dignity & compassion.”

 

 

Which, by the way, I gotta tell ya … sounds like a frickin’ good plan.

 

 

Regardless.

 

 

Let me approach scrapping plans in a … well … curious way.

 

 

Curiosity is one of the three things I tell young people is the secret to success <the other two are resiliency and character>.

 

I tell young people this because most older people just don’t seem to have time, or make the time, to be actively curious.

 

Most older people … having inserted themselves into the daily grind and the ‘conserving institutions’ of which we call everyday Life … are less interested in curiosity and more interested in stability.

 

 

====

unexpected change

“Society, community , family are all conserving institutions.

They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least slow down change. But organizations are organized with the intent to destabilize.

Because its function is to put knowledge to work – on tools, processes and products; on work; on knowledge itself – it must be organized for constant change.”

Peter Drucker

====

 

I say all of that because it means ‘improving the world’ often translates into swimming against the natural tide of ‘conserving institutions.’

 

 

This is not easy.

 

And therefore makes it even tougher to scrap the plans for the day.

 

But not scrapping pans for the day has a bigger repercussion to an individual.

 

 

I think the ripple effect for most of us is that we find ourselves waking up each day thinking ‘wow … I would love to improve the world somehow today’ <either consciously or subconsciously> and yet we end the day seemingly ot even having nudged Life in a positive <improving> direction..

 

 

Frankly … this struggle increases a feeling of negativity which can easily consume your life if you are not careful.

 

 

Between society encouraging things that don’t feel right for you, a ‘conserving’ environment, unhappy friends, media generating anxiety rating point by rating point by convincing us the world is going to end or intrusive trolls on social media … it can seem overwhelming negative as you view all of this versus what you felt when you first woke up in the morning.

 

 

Maybe that is why I love, and included, the Andreas quote … we wake up in the morning knowing ‘who I am’ without anyone trying to tell us otherwise. ‘

 

 

It is an odd, uncomfortable, struggle we face in scrapping plans.

change world and new

In our heart of hearts I believe most people want to help others and make things better in their lives <and others>… but it is difficult to make a priority.

 

Especially if we even have inkling that we have some desire to enjoy the world that day.

 

Enjoyment, these days, can be found less in curiosity and exploring curiosity and more in stability and ‘things went smoothly <as planned>.’

 

 

Just like E.B. White suggests … we are not only torn each day by enjoyment and improvement … but as Drucker points out … layered on top of our own dilemma the world around us is conspiring to suppress any improvements or changes we may decide to try and apply that day.

 

 

It is a constant battle of ‘us versus them’ on a variety of levels.

 

 

Us versus society.

 

And.

 

Uhm.

 

Us versus others.

 

 

“…But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

 

 

 

Huh?

 

 

What if the one day I choose to enjoy the world … and someone needs me <which forces me to scrap my enjoyment plan>?

 

 

What if I spend the day helping someone who can never really be helped and I miss out on some personal enjoyment?

 

 

Thinking about scrapping plans for the day makes you start thinking about is it better if one just stopped caring for others … I don’t mean entirely just becomes secondary … and how would this effect Life <your own as well as others>.

 

 

 

By the way … this ends up being more about ‘unintended consequences’ or ‘indirect influence’ on Life.

 

 

big plans ruler universe
This may begin sounding selfish … but it is not.

 

 

It relates to an important nuance … serving others to benefit someone else or serving myself t benefit others?

 
Does my plan for each day need to be a question of should I help myself … or help others?

 

 

I think I have an odd perspective on this.

 

 

And it may sound selfish but hear me out.

 

 

I tend to believe if you focus on waking up and improving the world by helping others you are focused on the wrong thing.

 

 

Huh?

 

I would suggest if you focus on improving yourself and being better every day, being the best you can be as PART of the world, you will inevitably improve the world and inevitably help others.

 

 

I know the difficulty in this approach is that you can lose out on the obvious ‘cause & effect’ feedback loop which helps feed our belief in ourselves and fights everyday negativity in that we have tangible proof we did something positive.

 

 

It takes some courage to approach it the way I suggest.

 

 

And it takes a lot of steadfast resilience in the face of a ‘prove you are doing something meaningful’ world.

 

 

Here is another thing in my favor with this thought.

 

 

All of us pretty much understand that no matter what plans you make, something unexpected is bound to happen … especially if one of your plans to enjoy the day and improve the world is a commitment to curiosity <which implies plans will be scrapped at some point any way>.

 

 

The unexpected portion implies plans are relatively useless … and maybe more importantly … scraping plans is almost standard.

 

And following that thought … it also implies it almost doesn’t matter what you actually do <as in measured tangible output and checks against ‘things done today’> as long as you have created some positive change, some improvement, around you.

 

————–

“It doesn’t matter what you do,” he said, “so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

=

Ray Bradbury

————-

 

 

Look.

 

 

Life isn’t easy. Planning isn’t easy.

 

 

We all know this.

 

 

And my thought on approaching Life every day is tough because its approach accepts that things may not get better by tomorrow … maybe not even next week … but at some point <in the future>.

 

And while I don’t really embrace the whole ‘live in the now’ psychology I do suggest that really the only plan you shouldn’t scrap each day is improving yourself and doing the best you can.

 

 

It is like improving the pebble being dropped into each day’s Life.

 

 

Anyway.

 

 

Despite all the bullshit in this world the one thing you can control is your own self-improvement. The one thing you can actually DO every day is remain curious and pursue curiosity.

 

 

You have to keep that in mind because while your plans are your plans …you need to beware … someone will always have tools to destroy them.

 

 

 

————

“Even if you have built your walls higher than the sky, someone will have the tools to destroy them. “

=

scraps of dreams pick up

via nothing-to-regreet

————

 

 

Lastly.

 

 

The plans you like, feel comfortable with, and inevitably start putting in place more often. Let’s call this your personal ‘conserving institution’ for the sake of continuity in this post.

 

 

The point here is what you feel comfortable knowing & doing. As you get older you will find a desire to do what you like doing and think what you feel comfortable thinking … more & more often.

 

As a result, you don’t see what I see <or someone else sees>.

 

 

You see what you like. So you end up seeing information that supports your point of view and your plans become less based on pursing curiosity but instead on stability & predictability <based on what you already know>.

 

You get stuck … stuck knowing what you already know.

 

 

 

Curiosity is a deliberate decision and action <I always get a little vocal when someone says ‘I am naturally curious’ because I tend to believe it is more a decision and not some innate characteristic>.

 

 

To improve yourself <and hopefully improve the world around you> you have break the existing routine of doing what you do and thinking what you think.

 

 

You have to force yourself to not only get a different perspective … but actually try and understand that perspective.

 

 

Even if you love your job you need to force yourself to learn new skills that increase your value to others <in business & work>.

 

 

You have to force yourself to look for something you would typically never read.

 

 

Inevitably you just have to learn to scrap the plan for the day if it means becoming better … and I mean proactively scrap the plan rather than have the scraps of dreams possibilitiesplan scrapped for you.

 

 

So go ahead … scrap the plan for the day.

 

I believe either you do it or Life will do it.

 

 

And maybe that is the biggest point.

 

 

Control your destiny or have Life dictate it.

 

 

That is your choice when it comes to plans and your day<s>.

Enlightened Conflict