Articles by Patrick T. Davis
One need not stretch too far, nor have particularly partisan views, to accept arguments that ours is a culture marked by institutional collapse. Confidence on Wall Street and in capitalism itself slipped with the tarnishing of names AIG, Lehman and Merrill Lynch (among others) during the Great Recession. Trust in the U.S. government eroded along party lines, calling into question the integrity of the democratic process, on the path to health care reform. Faith in the Catholic Church continued to fold just last week under the weight of yet another round of scandal fueled by priests preying on the most vulnerable. On somewhat lighter fronts: there is no longer a "most trusted man in news" when every adman is a newsman, and so many newsmen an advertisement (or plagiarist). Science is more politicized than ever, the clarity of its objective truths clouded by a climate of competing interests. If our cultural institutions are not as strong as they once were, where is one to place belief?
Legendary television producer Norman Lear often said it was best to start the story "in the middle." That's where the truth of the narrative is, and the theory held for Super Bowl XLIV. Smack in the middle of a confused and confusing collection of ads was The Who, an embarrassing half-time show of old white men singing of "pinball wizards" in the age of connected gaming, and claiming some distant insight into the "teenage wasteland" of a generation to which they do not belong. Yet, they were entirely relevant context for the general fiasco of this year's ads, asking: "Tell me who are you?" With some notable exceptions, advertisers seemed to have no idea who they were this year, nor who their customers might be.
When Steve Jobs took to the stage in San Francisco's Moscone Center on January 27, the world knew what to expect: Apple would finally announce its long-awaited tablet. With that pre-determined focus and the anticipatory roar for the next "insanely great" thing, most missed the larger announcement of the day. Steve Jobs did not simply announce the company's latest creation; he completed a task first made public in January 2007, when the company dropped "Computer" from its name to become Apple, Inc. The real news hidden in plain view as Jobs unveiled iPad was the repositioning of the company that created the personal computer.
After years of disappointing design, quality and performance, GAP seems tapped into the American cultural pulse once again. The company's holiday advertising campaign announces that the country is "Ready for Holiday Cheer." Like many retailers, GAP is spending more and launching earlier this year, including a major Vanity Fair insert and back cover. Whether these efforts end up translating to sales, of course, remains to be seen. Still, the campaign does more than any other to date to declare a shift in attitude. Consumers will decide for themselves to celebrate in ways "modest" or "all out," but either way, GAP gives permission "to liberate" from the dark clouds of the past 18 months. A holiday declaration of independence -- "This holiday, it's up to us" -- makes the empowerment message abundantly clear: Yes, Virginia, there is an American spirit of hope, even joy, that will not be silenced. The recession is over.
It seems a fait accompli, the death of agencies. I’ve made the case for the collapse of this industry business model several times over, and the Financial Times has recently detailed the challenges and the various players’ attempts to address them. It was, though, Nicholas Negroponte from MIT’s Media Lab who stated the issue plainly and first, a decade ago, saying that any organization that “describes itself as an ‘agency’ is doomed.” He was right, and the industry still has not taken on the fundamental question of the day: if not an “agency,” then what?
The most successful beer marketers in the world have crossed a line. According to AdAge, a pun is “the final frontier” in “tasteless” beer advertising. In a spot for Bud Light Lime leaked on the Internet, everyday folks innocently confess to getting it “in the can” (some of them like it and want to do so again!). The punch line of the spot reveals that the popular brew is now available in all-too-familiar handy aluminum containers.
Starbucks has a brand problem. Everyone knows it. Their founder knows it. And, to Starbucks' credit, the company is taking action. A brand problem, though, is a business problem. It's not a matter of addressing or re-dressing things. It's about operations, about the integrity of processes. Making the promise and keeping the promise of the brand can never be detached from the consumer experience. This is not good news for Starbucks; it's still faking it.
It is no news that advertising agencies are in crisis, struggling to survive under the multiple pressures of reduced client budgets, degraded media effectiveness, and connected, informed consumers. What is news: agencies are proving themselves unable to adapt and to fix their own business problems; client-side solutions are winning. This, more than anything, illustrates the disconnect too often experienced between “the business” and “the creative” sides of marketing. The marketer’s role, in the end, is to navigate the markets — to succeed even amidst change — not just to razzle and dazzle though sales don’t come in the door. This applies to clients and to marketers alike. Mad Man: market thyself.
The very notion of “agency” is becoming a footnote in today’s technologically reshaped marketplace and media. And it is within this environment that the bold, if not always adored, Katharine Weymouth, publisher of The Washington Post, has decided to act as others sit idly. Ms. Weymouth and others at WaPo decided to host sponsored “salons,” bringing together reporters, lobbyists and corporations for quiet conversation and, one assumes, a deeper understanding of each other’s interests. Call it influence if you must. It is, after all, only new to discuss this type of paid access, not to grant it. Denying such is as charming and annoying as newsprint itself.
Steven Brill’s TSA “fast pass” company and creator of the Clear card has imploded. Verified Identity Pass takes with it more than $100 million in investor cash, the registration fees of approximately 200,000 travelers, and a dumpster-load of sensitive biometric data. The company provides only a message that it has ceased operations as of June 22, 2009 due to creditor problems, and posts a link to its privacy policies. The one message that seems to be coming out clearly in media is that Brill stepped aside from daily management some time ago. Got it: you are not responsible. Unfortunately, Brill isn’t done with us yet. He has one more bad idea that, like Clear, involves gathering up data, segregating worthy information from unworthy, and charging for it: Journalism Online.