We love a bit of a debate here at B&T. And that’s why we’re loving regular columnist, Robert Strohfeldt’s, latest musings. Here, he suggests, adland, in recent times, has been enveloped by politics and, arguably, to its detriment too…
After 30 years in advertising (and research), a person observes not just changes in the professional side of the business, but also the sociology of the industry.
During this time, I have concluded that one attribute anyone in marketing and advertising must have is the ability to be objective.
Whether just starting out or an old stager, there are four words you must have heard – “I don’t like it!”. The ability to remove your opinion and look at something through the eyes of your target market (assuming you know who your target is), is not correlated to intelligence. In fact, some of the smartest people I have met have been infected by IDLI disease (Hell, everyone else is coming up with acronyms.) They know they are smart and hence think their opinion is correct – but there is no right or wrong.
Another observation is the politicizing of the industry. For a number of years one of my partners and I gave an annual lecture to the final year MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Management. The title was “The Chairman’s Wife Doesn’t Like Red”. The politically correct, please hold fire. It wasn’t stereotyping the Chairman being male, with the dutiful little wife. It was based on a real-life example with the moral there is a big difference between the theory and the practice of marketing and advertising and how subjectivity is a major issue they would encounter and must manage.
That I felt the need to qualify the title reinforces my point. When we started Bond Strohfeldt in 1990, we made the decision not handle a tobacco account. It was not something we sung out loud, put in our credentials or refused to hire smokers. (Many smoked Pot occasionally, so we would be left with bugger all staff). It was not an easy decision to make, as tobacco was legal and once you start making these sorts of decisions, where does the line stop – alcohol, junk food, gambling – the list is extensive. (Junk food advertising has less impact on child obesity, than gambling advertising’s impact on how much and how often people gamble.)
The medical profession will tell you that around 80 per cent or more of hospital beds are occupied by people who are there due to life style choices i.e. preventable conditions – poor diet, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, etc. Taken to its logical conclusion and we end up with a Hitler Nazi approach of breeding and developing the pure Aryan – blond hair, blue eyes, (today it would not be about ethnicity but something equally evil would take its place), didn’t drink or smoke, led the pure and perfect lifestyle and as boring as batshit. (Their propaganda left this last point out).
The balance between objectivity and “progressive thinking”, has become more and more difficult. It was earlier in the week, whilst flicking through “Facebook with a Necktie” (LinkedIn) that this really hit home. Now I admit to posting the occasional article and in between the ads, ads posing as advisory pieces and naff clichés (which I imagine are posted in the hope of causing the odd epiphany or two), there is some interesting stuff. I still don’t know why I did this, but there was article about a bunch of lads who got together occasionally to drink gin (man up and drink scotch) and I think try on suits or jackets. It was a “boys”, “or men only” club that fired up the comments. The opinions and commentary went on and on. Too many to count. It was a close-run thing between the pragmatists, who took the position that “boys” and “girls”, whilst being equals, are in fact different and the odd “boy’s” or “girl’s” get together was a bit of harmless fun and the “Fools”. (This is in fact a term used by psychiatrists to describe around six to nine per cent of the population who have idiotic beliefs, for example anit-vaccers, with whom no amount of logical debate is possible). The Fools were outraged that in today’s enlightened society, such events could take place. (I imagine they would make it illegal if they had the power to do so). Comments such as “Such gatherings are what is wrong with the industry today and take us backwards”. And some guys stated proudly that had never been to a “boy’s only” event and would not attend one. (Something tells me they are smart in steering clear).
There are quite a few reasons why Advisory and Management Consulting firms are making in-roads into our business, but this is not one of them.
After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the terms Left and Right had almost disappeared from the lexicon. But then came the 2008 GFC, brought about by unchecked greed and the “Fools” leveraged this to make capitalism a dirty word. Capitalism is a result of freedom of thought and speech – democracy. (The basis of democracy is majority rules, with the right to speak against the majority without fear of persecution). Suddenly Left was cool again and Left was associated with being Progressive. The foundation of the divide between left and right i.e. labor versus capital, has also been lost over time. For example, Hollywood has been vocal a proponent of a Progressive agenda, with strong and broad support for Bernie Sanders and socialism. I am not quite sure that it has struck them that a socialist system requires a redistribution of wealth and no longer would they be able to command many millions (and a % of the box office takings) for each movie. No more mansions, multi-million-dollar holiday homes (most have more than 1) in exotic locations around the world, private jets, or even first/business class. I can see Madonna (replace with any vocal actor) sitting happily in economy class, sans French Champagne and leg room and offering to hold a screaming baby to give the mum a break.
Forget Madonna, how many in advertising would accept a minimum to maximum salary range of $45,000 to $65,000 and working for the government? (Which would “own” everything on behalf of the people, including their opinion.) Socialist governments do away with elections, they have the perfect system. And who would argue? They either make you disappear or lock up you if you do. The Left/Progressives believe in free speech, if it conforms to their beliefs. If not, they stop it anyway possible
Being called a Nazi is obviously not a compliment. Burned into history are the atrocities and crimes against humanity they perpetrated. But the Nazis came in at third place on the list of biggest mass murders of the 20th century. “Uncle Joe” Starlin was the clear winner with more than 50 million, followed by Mao Zedong. (The exact number of people he had directly and indirectly killed is in some dispute though that is was way more than the 7 million Hitler did, is not). But the proponents of Progressive Thinking, the Left, have sanitized the actions of these two sociopaths. I don’t ever hear “you are a Stalinist” thrown around as an insult in the same way as being called “a Nazi”.
Great communicators have an ability to be objective and to see what unites people, rather than what divides. Being objective doesn’t mean you should lose your ethics. But it does take tolerance and the ability to remove personal preferences from your professional actions.
So, what is left? Or more exactly what does it mean. The basics of Left philosophy have been forgotten by many of its modern supporters. Except one point common to all hard left regimes – the elimination of free speech.
Finally, the topic of the moment, Marriage Equality. If you believe in freedom of thought and expression, then you should believe in an individual’s right to marry the person of choice – no rules on whether that is a man, woman, transsexual or any other form of sexual preference. Democracy says though that laws are made by the majority and like it or not, we are bound to adhere. It is patently obvious, either anecdotally or though opinion polls, the vast majority of people agree with marriage equality, as it should be a basic freedom.
I have looked at various research to try and gain an estimate of what percentage of the population identifies as LGBT
The US is where I could find the only research of any objectivity and quality. (Gallop). And though there are many differences between Australians and Americans, the fact is that whether you are gay, bi or straight is how you were born (a human condition) – you cannot make gay people straight any more than you can make straight people gay.
Gallop sampled 58,000 and came up with 3.8 per cent of the population who identified as being LGBT. Yep, 3.8 per cent. Of, course if you are subjective and only look at your work and social circles, this figure may well be significantly higher.
Australia has the highest spend per capita on gambling than any other developed country in the world. In April 2015, Relationship’s Australia (a credible, objective organisation), calculated some five million Australians are negatively impacted by gambling, or just under 20 per cent of the population. But why is there not the same outrage as there is for not allowing for marriage equality? According to their research some 60 per cent of problem gamblers have considered suicide and there are 400 suicides a year attributed directly to gambling problems.
There is another story here – the real power of social media, which is propaganda. A classic case study in how 3.8% of the population can dominate the national debate and gain such widespread support. That figure does not include the families, in the way the figure for gambling does. But let’s be objective here. The problems associated with not being able to legally marry are nowhere near those caused by the consequences of gambling. If you believe they are, then you are a Fool. But gambling is legal and in a democratic society, a person can do what they like (legally) with their money. Marriage equality is not available under the current laws. One is legal, the other is not. Yet the basis of the Yes argument is harm/hurt and the ramifications, as the reason for changing the law. “Unfair” alone, is not the leading reason put forward. Emotion “sells”. (Always has.) And it is the emotive argument which is drawing huge support.
I am not trying to diminish the case for marriage equality, rather put it into perspective. Being objective, the problems associated with the lack of marriage equality are nowhere near those created by gambling. (I have spoken to gay friends who also believe there are far more important issues at stake and this debate has been blown way out of proportion.)
Where is the industry outrage and action over the damage caused by gambling – no industry call to limit gambling advertising? It all comes down to that dirty thing the true Left sees as the root of all evil – money. Huge advertising budgets, large employment opportunities and even larger tax windfalls for government. (In one recent AFL game, Sportsbet offered 284 different betting options).
Truly objective thinking extends a lot further than just removing the bias for the colour red. And there is that other old piece of advice “stay away from discussing politics, sex and religion.”