Thursday, November 01, 2001

How did we get so uptight?

I'm so glad you guys have joined this little gathering. I'm really enjoying being a blogeur, but thought I should pipe up so you'd know I was still alive.

I was lounging around google tonight, looking for an intellectual high. I found something Chris (yes, it's the third-person for you, now) wrote in Jan of 1996, or in Net-years, the bronze age. It cast a fascinating light--at least for me--on what has happened within the communications business over the last half-decade. Here's what I read in Chris's inaugural editorial for the Net Editors section of internetMCI.

"Interestingly, one sector of the economy most attuned to this change is the advertising industry itself. Last summer I visited the offices of Chiat Day, one of the major ad agencies in New York. The first thing I encountered there was a mural painted across the reception lobby wall that read, in foot-high letters: Advertising is Dead. At the same time, Ogilvy & Mather was publishing -- directly on the World Wide Web -- its six principles of advertising on the net:

1) Intrusive e-mail not welcome.
2) Internet consumer data not for resale without the express permission of the user.
3) Advertising allowed only in designated newsgroups and list servers.
4) Promotions and direct selling are allowed, but only under full disclosure.
5) Consumer research is allowed with the consumer's full consent.
6) Internet communications software must never hide concealed functions.

And of course Messner Vettere was hard at work for its client, MCI, on creating a web version of Grammercy Press, a virtual world illustrating the changes business organizations are likely to experience as they come fully online.

Another stereotype bites the dust. Somehow, these are not the same agencies that brought us the endless news of washday miracles and drop-dead models lounging across the hoods of Detroit's latest. What exactly is going on here?"

I don't know about you guys, but I found this r-e-a-l-l-y depressing. The reason? We've been backsliding for five years. In the early days of Net acceptance but before nirvana, we were obviously onto something. We understood this was all an amazing new experiment--we didn't pretend to have all the answers, have the Internet "solved."

Look how much more real we we were... Check out the voice used by the agencies Chris mentions above. They were "onto" something, without being into themselves. They were energized by possibilities, not exhausted by reality.

In 2001 we are officially afraid to be wrong. To admit we don't know. To accept that the Net is not ours to own, capture, and grab the mindshare thereof.

So instead, too many of us spew spin like a bad carnival ride, hiding from the truth rather than having the boldness to say to customers, "We don't have all the answers. But let's get to know each other and we can come up with some great fucking ideas."

Today is the day of positioning. Plugging square pegs in round holes until they fit--or else! We have become consumed with the need to "define," "own," and "solve."

This trend is not congruent with creative thinking. In fact, it kills creative thinking.

Can you see a top ad or PR agency today stating that advertising is dead--or more timely, brand marketing? No. We pretend that we've got it together, like a bunch of money addicts that need a good 12-step Greed Anonymous program. Is it panic? Terror? Resession-denial? Paranoia over the maturation of the Internet and business's inability to categorize and segment it? (Message from management: If they're paying us all this money, we'd better know about this Net thing by now!)

I guess it's all these things. But tonight I have a new mantra: "Lighten up." No more killing innovation by looking so desparately for answers. It may do us all well to go back and look at the stuff we were doing before what are now the good old days. Maybe we can unearth some worst practices and toss a little risk into the equation... and some reward too. Gonzo style.

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