Category Archives: Advertising

Time to Don Draper Up

In the previous (re)introduction I made a broad statement that the seemingly cosmic optimism/anxiety of social media is just a part of the micro/macro shifts of history, with a link to Thomas Frank’s book The Conquest of Cool

I wanted to explain a bit further what I meant by that.

The Conquest of Cool focuses on cultural flux of the advertising industry from 1958 till about 1968. Frank offers meticulous historical research, excerpts from period documents and books, and interviews with the key players on the shifting attitudes of advertising as a profession, as well as the idea of advertising as a measurable science. It’s a history lesson but I also think it doubles as management practice for today’s advertisers.

The central thesis of the book is that the counterculture of the 60’s did not change advertising but rather advertising changed how people thought about their life and its relationship to brands

That’s not to suggest it was all a univocal campaign created by ad agencies. Long time advertisers were beginning to employ individuals who may not have been radical Marxists or members of SDS but were at least weekend warriors in the youth culture.

In addition many CEO’s and professional creative’s WANTED to shake things up.

The results entirely reshaped consumer relation and valuations of reality. It can easily be argued that our modern concepts of branding comes from the agency changes of the 60’s

I think we’re in a similar fluidity to them now.

No, social media is not an exact mimic of the 60’s counterculture. Social media offers some interesting ways t engage with brands and consumers, and at the same time the work place is slowly beginning to fill with a generation who grew up with free flow of previously controlled materials (I was in sixth grade when Napster became popular). Of course, for many marketers this has meant they’ve lost control of their  brands “message”.

I think anyone in marketing who believes this has seriously deluded themselves in self-importance. They never had control of the message. People have always sat around and talked about products, how much they sucked or how well something worked.  People have always defaced poster boards.  Brand slogans will always be reappropriated  to meet with certain cultural attitudes outside of what the brand would prefer.

Do we really think the outrage around BP would have been any less if people weren’t able to use tools like Facebook or Twiiter???? That might be a callous example but I think you get the idea.

What has changed is how people operate with this information. The backalleys in which these conversations and alterations take place has opened to a more public forum. The best organization can do is take note of how people are talking about what they’re doing.

My basic breakdown as how to adjust to this:

1.) Discover the Brand’s Social Context
2.) Create and Commit to the Brands Narrative
3.) Create Value for the brands Social Media
4.) Empower Users
5.) Align Social Media with Long Term Goals

I recognize that this is the sort of jargon stock holders and CEO’s hate. But there is no turning back. They need to recognize the media literacy of modern audiences,  who have certain expectations about how brands should operate in this world.

I’m going to close this on a stupid analogy. But I think it works… I also think Mad Men is the best television show since Twin Peaks ( DO NOT EVEN COME AT ME WITH ANY LOST CRAP)

The people who are concerned that their “losing the message” in social media want to me the Don Draper of Season’s 1 & 2. The sort of ultra-cool, impenetrable ad man of advertising’s Golden Age.

But now we’re in Season 4 and much like a high school reunion we’re learning that hyper cool people like Don Draper are just as misguided and vulnerable as the rest of us.

Is social media bringing brands into adulthood?


New Season

I started this blog around the same time that I was compiling two years’ worth of readings, research, and interviews into what would be my graduate thesis.

There’s a basic rule to be a successful grad student. Write…a lot. So I started this as exercise. I got three posts deep before the demands of working on and my thesis assured me that my weekly writing output would need no assistance from a blog.

Times have changed. All that research got slapped into a 78 page behemoth filled with fun stuff like metaculture, Bourdieu, and indie rock bands (it’s a real page turner).

But the most important change is that I’ve left the academy  and have fully joined the “working world”. Well, at least I’m trying. I’ve been on a two month, non-freelance job hunt that is about as uplifting as using Taxi Driver as white noise to fall asleep to.

It’s an exciting and frustrating time to be seeking work in the media fields.

After undergrad I started working at a PR firm. I’d spent four years studying the economics, culture and psychology around media consumption. I was also from a generation that grew up with platforms like Napster and Facebook and thought about these systems often. When I left college I really thought that these networks  were going to reshape how organizations functioned. But when it came to the firms weekly de-10 no one was interested in having any real conversation about integrated brand communication (at least no one in Rhode Island).

I was convinced I had deluded myself into thinking organizations actually cared about how people used things like Facebook, or World of Warcraft .  It seemed the only logical place to pursue my passions was back in academia.

Of course the great irony was that I no sooner became a student  that the masses caught the social media bug.  That puts me in an interesting place. In 2002* I had written a paper on user-generated marketplaces in (now defunct), but as far as most interviewers and HR people see it I’ve been “on the side line” for a while.

I don’t regret this. Grad school allowed me to develop some concrete thoughts about an immaterial world.

One of these insights – There is a tremendous amount of collective corporate anxiety around social media, technology, and all of these gadgets that flash, buzz and tweet at us all day. On a few interviews organizations seemed disappointed I could offer no one stop solution. Clearly they were hunting for the “magic bullet” or some authority on how to operate in this field. If your one of those people, well..uhmm.. I don’t think you get it.

Advertising/marketing has never had a “cure-all”.  Even more important, on the societal level I think we’re beyond the point of having authority figures. Anyone and everyone with an internet connection can gather information, edit and publish it with a few clicks-turning themselves into a temporary “experts”. That’s not a judgment call, just a stated fact. The pieces are the same (people) it’s just the technology is different.

The last time I was at an agency this stuff was being called “new media”, with a little too much emphasis on the “new”. I understand why it was used, but that concept was simple. Social media is just as much caught up in the micro/macro flows of history as everything else. Especially since the most intrinsic aspect of it, sociability of people, is so predictably irrational.

Agencies that employee successful social media work will be no different than the success stories of the past. They’ll be the agencies that pay attention to culture. Their internal culture and the culture that surrounds the brands they help represent.  They will be the agencies that help retain relationships between brands and consumers, all the while helping to authenticate the narrative consumers tell themselves.

That might sound like gobbledegook, but I’m hoping to use this space to explain exactly what I mean and get back in the habit of writing… a lot

* In no way am I suggesting that in 2002 this idea was ahead of it’s time. But when I told people about it there was certainly a lot of  “your doing what? Why?” responses