Reinventing Reality

by John Pellegrini

Have you ever read any of the advertising industry trade publications? You won't believe what a mindless void there is among the people who supposedly are responsible for promotions. It truly amazes me to see how closed-minded, conservative, and anti-progressive some of these people are! I've been scanning the trade publications for quite a while now, in the perhaps mistaken belief that I will learn something new. While there are articles about new products and new campaigns, I can probably learn as much about these subjects by reading the Wall Street Journal and Businessweek.

This has led me to question the validity of the advertising agencies' claims of superior abilities in creativity. Not that I ever believed that they had any superiority to begin with, but now I have evidence from the horses' mouths that these people are about as creative as glue.

One CEO of a major agency recently wrote an article dismissing out of hand computer technology and interactive media. Whatever his reasons were, maybe he was just trying to remind everyone that a good creative idea doesn't need flashy technology, which I would agree with -- he still poses a disturbing viewpoint. As the head of one of the biggest agencies in the world, how can he be anti-technology, or even wish to have his agency viewed that way? Does he really expect that anyone would want his agency to promote their products to a modern generation?

It's not just one viewpoint of one advertising CEO either. Really cutting edge and innovative advertising isn't happening in the major agencies any more. I'll guarantee that when you see or hear an agency spot that is wildly creative, it came from a new, upstart agency, the agency that has nothing to lose and really needs to make a name for itself fast. The big, complacent, successful agencies that have been around a long time are full of fat cats who prefer to rest on their laurels and remain cautious about anything new or daring. At the same time, you can read everywhere about major agencies going through personnel shake-ups, closing down divisions. Also, you read about product companies dropping their old agencies and going with other agencies. Because of all these changes, many agencies are urging even more conservatism and caution. "Don't rock the boat; don't cause a panic."

Well, I'm here to say that it is precisely that conservatism that's killing the advertising agencies and the industry as a whole. True, there is always innovative and new concepts being created, but why is something new or different viewed with so much fear or skepticism by the advertising world? If anything, advertising should be at the forefront of new technologies and the cutting edge. Advertising should be nothing but radical, daring, and innovative.

Promoting new products is where advertising began. Let's face it; you really don't need any of the new stuff that's come out in the last fifty years. You really don't need your expensive hi-tech sneakers. You really don't need your interactive video games, you really don't need your twenty-four hour television news channels, your home shopping networks, your music television, your fax machines, your bottled water, your home espresso maker and coffee grinder, etc., etc., etc.. You don't need any of it. It was advertising that convinced you that you did need it. Advertising creates the market for stuff we don't need. Advertising tells us that this meaningless crap is the key to personal fulfillment. And yet, here are all these advertising CEOs and honchos telling us that new things aren't good. Let the new technology prove itself over a few decades before you get excited about it. No wonder they're losing clients constantly.

Advertising must be on the cutting edge to survive. Advertising must constantly re-invent the wheel and all the millions of things that have come since. Rather than follow fashions a few years behind, advertising must make the fashions. Advertising must make the reasons why we want the new fashions, the new trends. The fact that so many manufacturers are dumping their old agencies is proof enough that the old dead wood has to be thrown out and new ideas must be brought in, especially in this age of instant communication and instant global access (which is what I think CNN is calling itself now). There have never been more information and media outlets, and there has never

been more chances for one person to see a product's marketing approach every hour. You can only hear the same old cliches so many times before you get tired of it. And with the incredible amount of media outlets available now, plus more on the way (500 TV channels coming soon, plus more radio air space on the way), those cliches are going to wear out in a matter of days, if not hours.

If advertising is going to succeed, then those responsible for all this conservatism and closed mindlessness are going to have to get with the program, or they'll find themselves out of the picture entirely. This is no joke. There is going to be a massive media revolution coming in the next couple of years. It's already started in many quarters. If I was the manufacturer of a product and I wanted to market it to the new generations through the new communications media outlets, I certainly wouldn't want an agency whose CEO doesn't even know how to turn on a computer or understand the difference between a laptop and a modem.

Face it gang, what we have here is an industrial revolution that's going to make the original look like a sunday school picnic. Now, I'm not saying that we've all got to go out right now and buy all the latest high tech stuff. But, you should at least have a working knowledge of what it is, and what it can do for you. Computer literacy is already the deciding factor for job experience in most industries. The new technology that advertising executives dismiss today may cost them their jobs tomorrow.

Each of us as Production Directors write more advertising copy in one day than the average agency handles in one month. We've got to do it better and faster with quicker turnaround. We find out in a hurry what works best because we get instant feedback on how well out spots worked. We cannot afford to be conservative. We must take chances, and we must try new things because our burnout rate is ten times faster than agency creatives go through. You can't say the same thing over and over again and still believe it to be true. We constantly re-invent our jobs.

Knowledge of new information is the key to success. The more you can learn about new technologies, the better you will be able to explain it in advertising. Sure, you may not have any clients on the air right now who sell interactive CD ROM, or virtual reality, or six channel 3-D sound systems. But you will. By Christmas, all three of these will be available almost everywhere in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Orient and elsewhere. If you don't know what the new high tech stuff is, you'd better find out, because you will be writing copy for it soon.

Of course, I know as well as the next guy that not all this new technology will survive. Many leading experts are putting the demise of the Compact Disc at around ten years from now. DAT is expected to follow. HDTV has already been re-invented and it still isn't available on the common market. Digital broadcasting is a long way off, but that has more to do with the broadcasting industry corporate fighting over the redrawing of market boundaries than with the development of technology. But, believe me, if you're not up to date on any of these subjects that I've mentioned, then get cracking, because you'll need to know soon.

I'm not saying that we all need to become computer geeks or go back to school to get a physics degree. But just remember, the pocket calculator is only eighteen years old, and it's already obsolete. The same will be true of the cassette deck, this electronic typewriter with correction ribbon that I'm writing this article on, the audio cart, the teletype and wire printers, turntables, open reel tape decks.... Nearly everything familiar about radio equipment in current stations will be gone by 2005. That's only eleven years from now. Where will you be?

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