The Great Rethink

A bit before the age of enlightenment, it wasn’t that fashionable to think deeply about important things. In fact, it could get you into quite a bit of trouble as Galileo found out.

Mentalfloss — 15 Gripping Facts about Galileo

Questioning important concepts that certain circles benefitted from the masses believing to be true, really was the act of a genuine radical.

Obviously, when it comes to marketing today, the worst thing that might happen if you say anything contrarian will be to get ‘Ritsoned’ — academically tied up with charts funded by certain circles that benefit from a concept being believed to be true.

However, this isn’t about digital media versus TV. Not just because most TV is now digital, so it’s kind of a pointless argument, but because I think there are important things happening that we should invest more time and energy rethinking.

Since I started my agency career in 2002, we’ve been talking about the impending change and disruption. Whilst there have been changes, nothing wildly revolutionary has happened — if we’re honest — it’s all disappointingly and predictably incremental.

Now, maybe it’s Trump and Brexit blurring my reality, but the last year or two does feel different. I’m not sure what, or why, but there’s something bubbling away.

I appreciate we don’t like facts in our industry, we prefer to sell emotion (much bigger production budgets and media spend) but the evidence, that’s all very well known, is pretty concerning.

So here are just a few things we should starting thinking about

Trust in crisis

When trust in our most integral institutions is at an all-time low and we simply don’t understand ‘how the other half live’, I think that’s worth thinking about.

When brands create award winning communications but have questionable business practices, I think we should have a more accurate definition of integrated marketing communications. As the saying goes, everything communicates.

Fakery and fraud

According to the World Federation of Advertisers, ad fraud could potentially represent $150 billion by 2025. I think that’s worth thinking about.

To think that ad inventory is being used to fund some pretty dark enterprises and organisations, I think that’s worth thinking about.

When you’re intentionally manipulated and you can longer believe anything in your newsfeed, I think that’s worth thinking about

Short termism

Since the financial crisis in 2008, we’ve become addicted to short term results. This pervasive strategy of pursuing the now is proven to be at the expense of long term growth. I think that’s worth thinking about.

The attention problem

To quote and reference Faris Yakob in his brilliant book Paid Attention:

Communications thrive and effect change in proportion to the amount of attention allocated to them”.

When attention spans are declining, ADHD is rising and burgeoning levels of (largely uninteresting) content is vying for your time, I think that’s worth thinking about. (If you’re still reading this, well done and thank you).

Industry disruption

Whether it’s management consultancies gobbling up agencies, an increasing amount of ad revenue flowing through just two companies, or the futile ‘race to the middle’ (bottom) I think that’s worth thinking about.

When you require so many agencies to deliver a multi-channel, through the line, digital first, innovative, socially led, far reaching and engaging, personalised, emotional, sales driven campaign on less budget than you had last year, I think that’s worth thinking about.

When you no longer have real diversity of people or opinions in creative companies, I think that’s worth thinking about.

And when all of this, potentially caused someone feeling so overworked and stressed that they felt the need to take their life, I think it’s absolutely worth thinking about.

In isolation, these subjects create interesting debates and a huge amount of traffic driving click bait, but very little substantive change.

When you combine them together, you’re left with a dangerously complex web of interrelated issues. Issues that probably feel all too hard to address, forcing us to seek answers in simpler places. That VR, influencer marketing thing, that’ll fix it.

If there was ever an example of the Whole Elephant parable, this is it.

I can’t help feeling this all comes down to the fact that we’re just not a very professional industry.

Imagine what the world would be like if engineers, doctors and scientists thought and behaved the way we did. Now I know we’re not as essential as these people, but we still make a difference and a contribution to the economy.

In 2014, advertising in Australia contributed to 1% of our GDP.

According to PWC, by 2020, advertising spend alone in Australia will reach $18BN. Now, that’s an eye watering number for a population of 24M.

The aggregate value of the top 100 brands in Australia are estimated to be worth $127BN.

The industry employs and supports 100,000 jobs.

At its very worst, marketing and communications can be very bad for society, at its best it can save lives.

And yet, you don’t need an official qualification to do it.

If we’re honest, when we’re spending this sort of money on behalf of companies, that the public also must give up their time to receive, I believe we have a moral obligation to think about what we’re doing and its impact.

I believe now is a great time to reflect on what we do and why we do it. Let’s get some old stuff out and new stuff in. And vice versa, get the unhelpful new stuff out and the timeless old stuff back in.

In a recent Reddit AMA with Elon Musk on the importance of learning to learn, when asked how he learnt complex subjects so quickly he replied:

“Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.
One bit of advice, it’s important to view knowledge as a sort of semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles i.e. the trunk and big branches before you get into the leaves and details, otherwise there is nothing for them to hang on to”.

Because we’re increasingly dealing with leaves rather than trunks, I’ll be writing a series of related musings that I believe to be true, interesting and hopefully helpful.

I don’t apologise if they’re long and meander down a few rabbit warrens, because that’s sort of the point. (And I haven’t written them yet).

However, the next post (hopefully next week) will be something along the lines of how we can learn a lot from the past to explain the present.