Calling all wallflowers: industry members should speak up

At the risk of putting this old Cliff Richard tune in your head, 'It's so funny how we don't talk anymore. Anymore, anymore.'
It's not funny in the sense that I have often heard people wonder aloud how members of a communications industry could be so notoriously poor at communicating with one another (the old shoemaker's children phenomenon) but, then again, it is strange when you consider most creative industries (art, music and the like) are tremendous fodder for vigorous debate and conjecture.

At the risk of putting this old Cliff Richard tune in your head, ‘It’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore. Anymore, anymore.’

It’s not funny in the sense that I have often heard people wonder aloud how members of a communications industry could be so notoriously poor at communicating with one another (the old shoemaker’s children phenomenon) but, then again, it is strange when you consider most creative industries (art, music and the like) are tremendous fodder for vigorous debate and conjecture.

It’s not that we don’t like to talk. In fact, I have marveled at the passion we advertising professionals display when debating such earth-shattering issues as the proper number of fingers on the hands of the Kool-Aid jugman. Oh we’ll state our opinions in private, but with the rare exception of the whole Grip debate, rarely in public.

I was excited when Strategy unveiled its ‘Ads that suck/rock’ section, but I have been disappointed with the tepid response.

And have you seen the tumbleweeds rolling by in the Letters to the Editor section in our trade publications? Why is that? Is it that most of us are apathetic? Fatalistic? Or have we learned that having a public opinion on what makes an ad good or bad can be bad for your career?

I look back fondly on the time when, as a newbie AE, I wrote a letter condemning a Money Mart ad. Coincidentally, it ran opposite an article on Terry Bell’s negative assessment of a Canadian Airlines campaign. I got a reprimand. Terry got a pink slip.

(Bumpersticker: If this plane ad’s a-rotten, don’t come a-knockin.’)

It’s not that I am a conflict monger, but I do feel that the word healthy fits nicely in front of debate. For an industry that prides itself on pushing the almighty envelope, we aren’t very pushy. Any lawyer will tell you that ‘silence gives consent’ and I, for one, am not content with all the deafening silence and small talk. We can all get better.

It was in my pursuit of getting better that I came across Chuck Lorre’s vanity cards. If you know who Chuck Lorre is, you may be watching way too much TV. Chuck is the executive producer of Dharma & Greg who took it upon himself to do a special kind of production slate for the end of each episode. No ‘Sit, Ubu, sit’ for Chuck. Instead, he espouses some personal beliefs housed in a wall of type on a one-second still after each episode. Here’s a sample:

‘Thank you for videotaping Dharma & Greg and freeze-framing on my vanity card. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my personal beliefs. I believe that everyone thinks they can write. This is not true. It is true, however, that everyone can direct. I believe that the Laws of Karma do not apply to show business, where good things happen to bad people on a fairly regular basis. I believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us better. I believe that the obsessive worship of movie, TV and sports figures is less likely to produce spiritual gain than praying to Thor. I believe that Larry was a vastly underrated Stooge, without whom Moe and Curly could not conform to the comedy law of three. I believe I have a great dog, maybe the greatest dog in the whole wide world, yes, he is! I believe that Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High is the greatest rock song ever recorded. Once again, thanks for watching Dharma & Greg. Please be sure to tune in again to this vanity card for more of my personal beliefs.’

Inspired? Yes. Self-indulgent? Maybe. But you have to love the guy’s spirit. Chuck has not only brought thousands of people to their knees in front of their TV (how else could they read it?), he’s inspired hundreds of people to write in (if only to say that their dog is, in fact, the greatest in the world). Tough to do in one second of airtime but Chuck pulled it off.

I guess I am saying that an open dialogue and the expression of an opinion are good things. Let’s do more of it. Write a letter. Out an ad that sucks or salute an ad that doesn’t. Attend a Strategy industry conference. This is where some of the best debate is happening. Because the great thing about opinions (even those that differ from yours) is that they inform and help you form your own opinion.

In the spirit of taking the first step, I’ll take my turn on the soapbox to state a few of my own beliefs:

* I believe that focus groups are like the weather. Everybody complains about them but nobody ever seems to do anything about it. Blow up the two-way mirrors.

* I believe courage is not rewarded nearly as often as conservatism in most companies today.

* I believe that if you are not receiving complaints about your advertising, it’s usually a very bad sign. Furthermore, I believe there’s something wrong with the system when a single letter from a septuagenarian shut-in can take down an ad someone spent $300K to make.

* I believe that employee turnover is a huge challenge for brand stewardship on both the client and agency side. I believe longer tenure on a brand means greater accountability and greater accountability means better work.

* I believe there’s something wrong when a man can shoot a machine gun in an ad but not drink a beer.

* I believe I’ve never bought anything at the Bay when it wasn’t a Bay Day. Who is the hamster spinning on the wheel? Me or the Bay?

* I believe that Krispy Kreme doughnuts are neither krispy nor kremey but I still declare them delicious.

Agree? Disagree? Super. We’ll all be better off when the polite golf claps are replaced by loud cheers and boos.

Jeff Spriet is the founder of Wiretap, a Toronto-based guerrilla branding agency, and wants to wipe that smug smile off the Kool-Aid man’s face. Reach him at 416-991-6240 or jeff@wiretap.ca.

Ed. Note: Or better yet, share with all of us and write a letter to the editor or e-mail us at adsthatsuck@strategymag.com or adsthatrock@strategymag.com.