We’re in danger of losing our ability to be patient

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada's largest media management operations. Last month, my father, my daughter and I spent a couple of hours walking...

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada’s largest media management operations.

Last month, my father, my daughter and I spent a couple of hours walking through the family bush lot – an acreage located in Sombra Township, 50 kilometres south of Sarnia in Lambton County, Ont.

My dad, who’s in his mid-70s, suggested we stop for a moment and ‘listen to the music,’ as he put it. That music was the sound of the countryside, which has a startlingly different quality than the din that assaults us, day in, day out, in our hectic, urban, media-centric environment.

So there we were – three generations of Youngs, standing quietly together in the middle of winter-swept bush. I’m not sure what my dad or my daughter were thinking about, but I was thinking about the very powerful and positive impact that farming once had on Canadians – on their media habits, their lifestyles, and their very souls – and how that impact has diminished to a mere whisper over three short generations.

I was also thinking that the skill-set possessed by good farmers is a skill-set good media managers and brand marketers also possess – the ability to expand one’s decision-making time horizon to include seasons and years, rather than just days and weeks.

My dad assumed full-time farming duties in the late ’30s, when he was only 14 years old. He quit high school to manage that bush lot, selectively cross-cutting ash, buttonwood, oak and maple, sliding the timbers out over hard, frozen ground by horse so as not to damage the property, and then transporting them by horse-drawn sleigh to my grandfather’s mill where they were transformed into usable lumber. So when dad began his full-time farming career, he was younger than my 16-year-old daughter is today. In that year, 24% of Canada’s labour force worked in the agricultural sector. That means that a majority of Canadians were at least familiar with the concept of the family farm and a very significant minority lived the farming lifestyle.

I took my turn working on my grandparents’ farm when I was 14 years old. Many of my peers also took their turn feeding chickens and plowing fields. That was in the early ’60s and, by then, a smaller but still significant 10% of Canada’s labour force worked in the farming business.

Today, only three per cent of Canadians work on the farm. My daughter is the first generation of Youngs not to have some kind of hands-on farming experience.

The family farm, the farming occupation, and the management skill-set that comes with working on a time scale that’s measured in months, seasons and years, rather than weeks, days and hours, is far removed from my daughter and her peers.

It makes me wonder whether perhaps some of the radical differences in media usage between those in the XY segment – people 12-24 years old – and the baby boomer generation might be attributed to the degree of exposure they’ve had to the farming philosophy.

Toronto played host to a farm-aid benefit concert in January of this year. The agri-occupation was portrayed as an endangered species. Tears were shed over plunging commodity prices, lousy returns, bad weather, and the lack of government attention and funding. These are all heart-rending issues – but something more has been lost. We are in danger of losing our ability to be patient and to think in broad time horizons.

Media and marketing professionals take pride in their ability to respond instantaneously and to act on time frames that involve weeks, months and quarters – but few are rewarded for ensuring long-term brand efficacy.

In my view, bush lots and brands have a lot in common. Brands that are tapped out in the short-term have little to offer down the road, but if they’re managed well, brands – like bush lots – replenish each year. Both can be a perpetual, renewable resource if well-managed on a macro timeframe. And they can lose their value if they’re simply clear cut, exploited for short-term gain.

Maybe MBA grads should have to spend a year managing a bush lot before they hit the job market.

Send your comments via e-mail to ryoung@hypn.com.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group