Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Head Is Spinning...

...after two days at an advertising production conference, the Boards Summit, where we heard that the sky is falling but the good news is that it may not fall completely on top of us. The reason for conferences such as this one is for industry people to connect. There are panels where industry leaders supposedly share something of value with the attendees. If they are any good, like graphic designer Stefan Stagmeister, you get inspired. Unfortunately, most of the time, you get self serving presentations of stuff that they have done that you have already seen on internet.
For the most part, I do wish that people would stop transparently shilling their own thing and start giving something worthwhile to the audience. One pays a lot of money to attend these events, and we might as well just hold an open bar for networking and dispense with the fiction of getting something of value other than schmoozing. Out of two full days of panels, I found a total of three to be interesting.
I wonder if it's just me, or my other creative colleagues are very good at hiding their cynicism, but after two days, my brain spins with the amount of BS advertising people are capable of spewing. Used car salesmen got nothing on us.
The one reassuring thing I learned, is that no matter how small the screen, and how intrusive or cool the constantly evolving technology, there will still be a need for writers (yay!). It turns out that more than ever there is still a need for "storytelling" and "narrative". Very reassuring, since these things have been around for thousands of years.
Interestingly enough then, that the new directors showcase showed nothing of the sort. Just mostly young guys doing crazy, non-narrative stuff with some panache but nothing to say. I'm the first person to embrace non-mainstream talent, but the selection this year was dismal. Some of the stuff was sheer stupid shock value, other was selfindulgent, most of it could not tell a "story". Talent is all well and good, particularly if it is exercised in the service of a brand and it still comes out looking like talent. That's what the director's showcase should be about. Either that, or real directorial prowess. There was only one (debatable) instance of that in the entire showcase and that was Cary Fukunaga's ad for Levi's. Now, I hate those pretentious spots (and so does everybody at the movies; people boo them off the screen), but directorially speaking, they are well done.
Now, "content" is in great demand. And what is "content"? Isn't it what we used to call movies, books, music, art: human expression unattached to selling a corporate brand? Now marketers want content, so this has become product as well. Content is really the expressive filler with which marketers expect to get your attention. The word is so Orwellian that it gives me the shivers, but I don't know anyone else that objects to it. Content has become product and product has become content and the lines are totally blurred. My colleagues seem to love this development. Me, I am scared out of my wits if I can't tell the difference between an ad and a non-ad, like a novel or a movie or a TV program or an article in a magazine. I don't mind great advertising, in fact, I love it and deeply admire it, as long as I know it's an ad and it is presented to me that way.
There is a lot of crap out there joining the content-social media-games-apps bandwagon, which is as utterly crappy as it was when it was a TV spot or a print ad (or even worse). The glut of messaging is frankly horrifying. And people are hunkering down and filtering out everything that does not apply to them. How many internet ads do I actually click on any given week? Probably one a month, if any.
The banners I get are totally off the mark. For a time, they assumed I was an Arab speaking lad willing to join the US Army. Lately, it's gotten a little better. Now they assume I have cellulite and wrinkles and am in sore need of Hydroderm. What do they know? How much "viral" content do I get through facebook or other internet media that I actually find amazing rather than stupid and puerile and a waste of time? Very little. I've learned a lot from what people share in facebook that represents their interests. Most of the time it's not ads. Agencies trying to viralize things that are obviously fabricated and artificially spread with useless effort deeply insult my intelligence. Luckily, there are incredibly smart, talented agencies doing awesome work in the new paradigm. The cream will always rise to the top.
Meanwhile, and at the risk of sounding quaint, there is the question of the Snuggie. I leave you to ponder that after all the bells and whistles of the new, this is the one thing that sold like pancakes, with an ugly ass ad on TV and a scary as hell internet page that behaves like an informercial on TV*.

*Which doesn't mean I am not fully embracing the experiential-viral-interactive-social media-mobile apps carnival. I'm just saying.

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