Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Get Out of My Pants

Try not to choke on your hashtags, but I’m a big fan of the 30 second spot. (I’ll give the digital strategists a second to clean up the Massengill they just blew out their nose.) Call it media blasphemy. But I’m a fan of the crafting that once lassoed my extreme ADHD, capturing me for a full 30 seconds, while I inquired along with Clara Peller and the rest of America, whereabouts of said “beef.” Yeah, them were simpl’r times. But better simple (and funny!) than utterly fucking disgusting.

Disgusting like this digital advertising version of the Garbage Pail Kid. Hey, gals! Kotex is inviting you to put on your creative caps and get artsy by designing its, well, Maxi Pads!?!? Maybe it’s because I have the sophisticated sense of humor of a 13-year-old boy. But this complete FAIL of an execution conjured up all kinds of uncomfortable questions (and images) like, “Aren’t we already kind of coloring these things anyway?” (Properly disgusted yet? Ok, then.) This isn’t the first time we’ve invited the audience to craft the message, it just happens to be a big “REALLY?” from an industry that’s lost its fucking marbles and/or more and more seeing itself as curator rather than creator. When I say I’m a fan of the 30 second spot, what I really mean is that I like stories. Good ones. The kind told by people with a knack for that sort of thing. Not anybody with a mouse and a maxi pad.

Here’s something actually worth your attention. Martin Scorsese’s documentary Public Speaking on writer, Fran Lebowitz.
(Go see it. It’s hilarious. Seriously.)

In it, she laments the democratization of creativity. “There are too many books. These books are terrible, and this is because you have been taught to have self esteem.” She also admits to not owning a computer. Which is probably for the best. Because given her attitude about literary content that actually made it through publishing, I suspect if she got her eyeballs on a “mommy blog,” she would croak immediately.

Digital’s greatest strength is also, I’m afraid, its greatest weakness. There are too many lazy advertising “creatives” out there, equating brand conversation with handing out “crayons for everybody!” Result? There are too many story tellers, but not enough stories. There’s a lack of connoisseurship, because we’ve done away with the traditional gatekeepers of content, instead adapting the kindergarten teacher mentality that “Everybody’s creative!” No. They’re not. (Nor is everything a canvas. Especially maxi pads.) “Interactive” doesn’t mean we let the audience do all the talking. That would be like going to MSG, only for James Murphy to pass out turn tables and clarinets to the audience, sit on stage, and wait for us to play.

That does not, however, mean digital doesn’t possess a wildly important role. The Times just ran a great article about the ways Museums have adapted social media to engage their audience. It’s turning museums into “virtual community centers. Curators and online visitors can communicate, learning from one another.” It’s about, says Ian Padgham, the SFMoMA digital engagement associate, “off the cuff transparency.” Which for a museum, makes total sense. An organization which might have been viewed as stogy and inaccessible, is now an open-armed community, empowering its visitors with a voice. But here’s the key difference. While there’s an invitation to talk about it, nobody’s creating the art.

I don’t mean to say social media etc is only good for product discussion. (I know it gets a little mucky because they’re both about “creation.”) It just happens to make perfect sense for museums. But that’s the thing. It makes perfect sense because there’s an idea behind it. Dare I say it acts as a narrative for a larger story: “Museum art exists for it’s audience.” It certainly does not create a microsite inviting users to “Punk your Pollock!” and digitally splatter away. (P.S. If you’re not groaning there’s something wrong with you. ) Sure it might increase attendance. But what’s good for business might cause another freaking earthquake, as the entire generation of abstract expressionists roll over in their graves. It’s a quick fix, but ultimately the real Pollock suffers. Not to mention our culture.

“Curation” may be the culture’s buzz word de jour, but we’re not going to have much of one, if we leave it up to everybody.


Megan said...

I'm glad you posted about this. I saw the Lebowitz doc as well, and I can't remember if it was her, or someone else I heard recently, saying that we've nurtured an entire generation on thinking that they're "special". Everyone's afraid to give criticism to any child, afraid that it'll stifle their creativity or damage their fragile ego.
Well, if everyone is so damn special then who do we have left to be curators of culture? Who's setting the standards of cool? Maybe this is why so many kids today grow up thinking they can and should be reality TV celebs, or YouTube videoblog stars strutting their prepubescent fannies across a webcam. When everyone grows up "special" and every child has the potential for stardom, we lose standards for coolness, artistic integrity and literary competence. And we're flooded with media junk that really has no value to much of anyone except whoever created it.
I also heard someone (famous or semi-famous) recently note that they were actually thankful for the monster that is Simon Cowell to have emerged in our culture. The fact that Cowell was one of the first voices to publicly tell someone from this emerging generation "NO"; to tell them "that was bloody awful, get off the stage," was actually a pretty poignant cultural moment. It made it actually culturally and socially acceptable to let someone know that they were maybe not meant to be a star after all.
And I think you're right - it's not about cutting out the consumer entirely - often, there's a need for them to have a voice in a brand. But it should all go back to the idea, and their voice needs to be applied in the right place. Most of the time the best application is for the consumer to be able to comment and feel like they were listened to.
If your job is not in advertising and you're able to say "I designed a maxi-pad today," then perhaps you need to think about what that says about your life. And as advertisers, we need to think about that, too.

concha said...

Good point about Simon Cowell. Agreed on all points made.

Anonymous said...