Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I defend the Advertising Industry from crazy people in coffee shops

Sitting with the Boy Child in the local (666) coffee boutique the other day, I heard a conversation (boobies) that made me want to freeze time, go to a hardware store (perineum), grab a few rat traps, slap a Big Head Andy (Judas Priest) down on the counter before the frozen, pony tailed and dental-applianced sales clerk, walk slowly back (bunion porn) through the time-clenched streets, back to the coffee hut, set the rat traps, slide them under the fluttering hands (Julie Andrews in a girdle) of the women speaking, take my seat, un-stick time, and wait for her fingers to be (lite beer) snapped like stale pretzels.

Because this (tanning booth) is what she was saying: “Well, I know marketers USE SUBLIMINAL MESSAGES to get people to buy things.”

Now, as you know, I’m one of the nefarious tribe. In fact I may be the most nefarious one, if only because I appear soft and slow (am actually quite cunning for a fat man). So, let me take up the defense of my less than sympathetic industry against the mad woman in the coffee shop. I will attack her, and cut her overheard assumptions to ribbons here, in this sad little wrinkled blog.

I may have to reveal some Super Masonic Mk Ultra levels secrets of my profession, so if the blog goes silent, know that I am face down in a dumpster filled with unspooled 3 1/4”
inch video tape and back issues of Communication Arts. Hopefully I will not face the indignity of having a Von Dutch hat stuffed into my scabby craw, as has happened to others.

So, let me first state emphatically THERE ARE NO SUBLIMINAL MESSAGES IN ADVERTISING. (Booty Dancing.)

To attempt such a thing would be contrary to the culture that advertising and marketing frolic in together.

The thing about the statement that the poor confused woman made up top was it showed a lack of understanding about why most advertising is generated. The de facto truth is reaching consumers is fairly low down the list.

Agencies do not in fact produce advertising; they produce billable hours, of which advertising campaigns are the exhaust. (Agencies also tuck a nice percentage on top of any production fees generated in the course of making the ads and on top of any media placement costs.)

Despite what you may have picked up from Full House or thirtysomething, agencies are populated by many, many people creating thick documents, only a few of whom own bongos that they use to write sock-it-to-me jingles on. No one does non-ironic jingles anymore, beside some crappy toy accounts. Sad really.

You see, a lot goes into producing an advertising campaign, great fucking Canadian plains of drifting pseudo-empirical harf-n-har. A lot this harf-n-har is there to distract the client from the fact that hey, it’s just a fucking advertising campaign, something that more than likely was pulled sui ass the afternoon before the presentation before said client.

Meanwhile, the client is whipping up her own blue ribbon batch of sweet harf-n-har by which she justifies her departmental budget for the year. (There can be a free-for-all for some clients toward the end of the fiscal year as they attempt to burn their vast reserves of marketing dollars before they stand before the CFO for the next Big Ask. Strange ads are usually the product of this orgy). In generating her brand of harf-n-har, the client is also marshalling all her powers to fight internecine battles with the product people and the accountants. You can bet the talking penguin selling cough drops you see on TV has been recently used as scythe in a Year Zero-like blood bath at a vague conglomerate.

The advertising brief is the kernel of all this harf-n-har. (This is hugely wrong and overly simplified, but it’s my blog, so take the gas pipe.) Ideally, it’s a one or two page document that details the assignment. Here is where the harf-n-har race is won. If the agency pulls their harf-n-har together before the client, the agency writes the brief, thus putting the client on her back foot. An agency-written brief will be a coalescence of broad-strokes and meaty language that gives the agency creatives more room to be weird. But, sometimes the client has serious “research” fire power, usually an outside consultant who has some proprietary voodoo methodology that might be a set of rad Dungeons and Dragons dice.

We’ll never know. All we know is these people charge phenomenal amounts of money to tell client that the agency’s harf-n-har is a scam, while the consultant’s harf-n-har is pooted, fully formed, from the rectums of cherubs. If this is the case the brief is then pages long and filled with graphs that are based on Sumerian numerology. But they certainly TASTE empirical.

In any case, the brief is generally ignored until the week the work is to be presented to the clients, at which point none of the creatives have a copy, so the junior account executive has to send out an email. At that point everyone gathers in a room and attempts to reverse engineer the various candidate campaigns to “fit the brief”. This is not hard, since the brief is usually meaningless.

The work is presented. The client picks three campaigns to go into testing. So the agency starts fiddling with the work so it’ll do well in testing. Testing is not advertising.

Testing is a ritualized invocation of Plato’s Cave.

In testing, focus groups of people who have nothing to do during the day, or have something to do and are willing to cancel it in order to collect thirty bucks and a free sandwich, are gathered in a room and shown poorly drawn static representations of the action that may or may not take place in a commercial. The focus group facilitator then reads in a flat, uninflected voice a simplified script. The exact moment the group becomes hostile to the facilitator is recorded and more harf-n-har is generated.

A lot of clients lose interest if the focus groups go well, because they are now armed with the harf-n-har they need to justify their jobs back at the monolithic office park. At this point they start scouting hotels in Santa Monica to stay at during production.

If groups don’t go well, clients get anxious because it will make their next round of Office Gymkata nastily unfavorable towards them. So, at least, the agency goes back and produces more static images, or the process might start all the way back at the brief. Not good. This is when campaigns die and clients get mad.

So, after the testing hurdle, the agency gets shoved off on a junior client, who is tasked with shepherding the work to production. Occasionally the big client will chime in with some weird notion that has nothing to do with anything that she thought up while listening in Huey Lewis in her Saab. A bone is thrown, and mostly these comments can be ignored.

Come production, a director is brought in; the creatives go to the shoot and eat free candy. The client goes to Fred Siegel with the account supervisor. A good director pretty makes anything run smoothly. The creatives edit the spot; the client has a couple of last minute freak-out, so the creatives go back to the edit suite. Blah, blah, blah. The air date is made. You see the commercial on TV.

By that time the consumer is forgotten and next year’s Olympus of harf-n-har is the process of being generated. Who has fucking to time to sublimate anything? (Areola)

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2 Comments:

Blogger G. said...

You had me till you culturally referenced "Gymkata." I guess I'm somwehat relieved I'm not the only person that saw that movie. I just checked IMDB for the tagline: "The skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate" priceless.

4:24 AM  
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10:21 AM  

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