Apr 15 2009

Nobody Actually Likes Advertising

ihatebillboards

(graphic from ihatebillboards.com)

You raved about advertising last night, and it was so easy to believe that you were wrong. Now I see that we were standing in the only spot where I could win. Next to a life-size replica of the mousetrap game, you told me that no one works for free. You said Wikipedia is going to fail because experts will never donate their time. Silhouetted in the apocalyptic glow of home-made fire art, you were preaching, saying advertising is the only option we have, saying commerce is the only real thing.

Sure, I said, deadpan. We all gotta eat. 

I was smirking, but today is Monday. At rush hour, I know I’m going against the tide. I spend a lot of time with very busy people who, economically speaking, don’t produce shit. The work I sometimes do has the cachet of underground. You have to know the right warehouses. It’s exclusive, but mostly it’s exclusive because you have to be willing to put your excess wealth into making your own culture. But what we do, it never put up skyscrapers. It has no market. It never built Rome, or railroads. You know better. You put such power into logos that the Khoasan Road bootleggers label their shoes “Nike” and the first hamburger place in Cambodia uses McDonanld’s colors. 

But this isn’t about globalization. It’s about you.

Back when we met, click-through was a means, not an end. We sat on the B-school lawn and told ourselves that the older generation were fools, that they had no idea what was good in life. We would only put our creative energies into projects we believed in, even if we weren’t quite sure what those might be. We were never going to work in a cubicle. We would never pitch a campaign to make insurance sexy. Then you got the offer you couldn’t refuse, and every new offer was a hard line pushed out a little bit further. You began to eat well, to afford health insurance, to think about having a family. The shine came off poverty, the outlines of reality shifted, and with them, the possible.

Now you sit in meetings where people say “monetize” without irony.  

You take in the company meeting and nod your head to the stock price. You tell me that open source is ridiculous, because actually Google funds Firefox and Ubuntu funds Linux. And Web 2.0 is for connecting with people — the people you want money from. And Facebook is for demographics, and viral marketing is culture, and when you did edit Wikipedia, you wrote:

A lifestyle brand provides a powerful supplement to the core identity of the customer.

When I read that, I knew the final person you’d convinced was yourself. You think you’re doing a good thing. And you’re probably right. The world really does work this way, because everywhere I’ve ever been, aspiration means money. And money means getting people to buy.

But you’re safe here, tonight. No one is watching. They don’t care if you believe, only if you deliver. So have another drink and let’s say it out loud, together, cut through and admit it: nobody actually likes advertising.

3 responses so far

Dec 05 2008

Bike Hero: A Critical Review

This video, a riff on Guitar Hero, is pretty great.

Unfortunately, it’s also a fake. The video is totally awesome, to use the technical term, but a large part of its awesomeness derives from the fact that some ordinary person not only came up with this completely implausible idea, but executed it brilliantly for no discernible reason. That makes it art, if only because we  don’t have many other good names for this type of behavior. One of the millions of untrained, unlicensed plebes rose up and did something amazing, and it’s inspiring precisely because it makes us think that we just might be able to do it ourselves. It’s our art.

Except that “we” didn’t do it. The video was produced by creative agency Droga5, according to the credits on this page, which also lists the CG animators. Doubly fake. Not only was this piece created as a viral marketing ploy for Guitar Hero, but the events in the video never actually happened.

“Authentic” is very hard to define. It’s easy to give flip answers like “love, not money,” but plenty of good art has been created to pay the rent. For an internet example, take the brilliant “OK Go on Treadmills” video. Sure, they did it to sell their album, but somehow it feels very “real”. I also like to imagine the jazz and blues musicians of old New Orleans, playing in the clubs every night. They were great artists, but they were working artists. Conversely, real culture can be executed as fake, like faux-Irish pubs all over the world. While any idiot can throw up dark wood paneling and serve Guinness, it’s not hard to tell when you’re being scammed for the tourist dollar. The trouble is, I’m often very hard pressed to say precisely what it is that makes one Irish pub phony and another authentic. Is Bike Hero no longer art now that we know who paid for it?

The only certainty I can fine here is that I don’t like being lied to. Undercover marketing is designed to make us believe that it’s not marketing at all, and that makes it the eptiome of inauthenticity. For this reason I have to give Bike Hero two thumbs down.

2 responses so far

Aug 26 2008

Are We Buying This?

Are you buying this?

Water shipped from Fiji is being advertised as environmentally friendly. Wow.

One sustainability blogger estimates that the total amount of water used to produce and deliver a single one liter bottle of imported water is 6.74 liters, and 250 grams of greenhouse gases are released.

The company claims that it intends to become carbon neutral, but not actually: they’re buying carbon offsets, which don’t actually reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (This is because there is no international framework to incrementally reduce the total number of credits available.)

There’s really no way around the fact that shipping water across the ocean in small plastic bottles is just a much dumber idea than getting it locally through pipes.

I mean, c’mon people.

No responses yet

Jul 30 2008

Biodiesel Hottie

This morning I saw a circus training hottie wearing a tight black T-shirt with BIODIESEL written on it in silver bling sequins. This, I thought, is how you combat global warming.

Several friends have written to me about my piece on Gore’s Sustainable Electricity Challenge, trying to answer the question of how you make climate change mitigation sexy. One person argued that it’s all about associations. When people think of oil they need to think of black goo, the agony of war, evildoers and open sores. When they think of sustainability they should imagine pretty young people, green trees, crystal waterfalls and shining futures. This idea of associations is at the core of classic marketing and public relations techniques. Hence, the Biodiesel Hottie.

I mentioned this to a friend and he instantly translated the central meaning: “preventing the collapse of civilization gives me a boner!”

Well, yes. That is sort of what a hot body in biodiesel bling says. From this ridiculousness he argued that real social change had to include deep education at the primary and secondary school level. I agree completely — but we still need marketing, because, near as I can tell, people don’t actually base the vast majority of their opinions on critical thinking. This should not be shocking.

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2 responses so far