Monday, March 01, 2010

10% Inspiration, 90% Irritation

NPR contributor and self-loathing copywriter Shalom Auslander takes rightful aim at the overwhelming paucity of sense, intelligence and shame in the Meet the Happy New Me, Same as The Crappy Old Me piece in March's issue of GQ (it's not yet available online, sorry). Once again, overzealous ad execs are caught praising the strength of the Nazi brand (and what great synergy - Hugo Boss & Volkswagen!). Of course, recently Montreal's own Mitch Joel was making a big hullaboo about the dearth of authenticity in personal branding, which makes about much sense as complaining that prostitution has lost its focus and become too commercial. I realize that at some point everyone in any job must do some serious psychic maintenance in order to maintain a sense of purpose, but let's be serious 2.0 marketing gurus: clever viral videos are fun, but you're not creating new experiential paradigms that challenge people to create, feel, live better or love with passion and inspiration. A little honesty and humility, please. Maybe you can profit from honesty - just think of Dudley Moore's ad agency stacked with idiot savants in Crazy People.

There's a certain breed of marketing manager/employee/guru/whatever that drives me absolutely crazy, and not just because of the constant strip-mining of culture and history for teachable moments (or quotes that will look good as signatures on their e-mails), but also because of their conviction that advertising and marketing is a great creative wellspring which changes lives and create monuments to the human spirit that will, if not dwarf, at least equal the great achievements of civilization. That this conviction exists in an environment devoid of any moral component makes for such stupefyingly moronic moments as the one described in Auslander's piece, when an ad exec quips, "Say what you want about the Nazis, but they knew branding."

A couple of other bracing tonics that I'd recommend, along the same line, are George W.S. Trow's 1980 New Yorker essay Within the Context of No Context (excerpt here) and Thomas Frank's amazing book The Conquest of Cool (excerpt here) about just how much of the 60's counterculture was manufactured by advertising gurus and lifestyle marketing an impetus for, rather than a response to, actual changing demographics. Frank is probably best known to most for What's the Matter With Kansas or his writing for Harper's, but before all of that, he edited the Baffler and wrote in a marvelous Menckian mode that avoids the imperial tone of Lewis Lapham. (As much as I love him, part of the reason I stopped reading Harper's were the incessant harping about the Decline & Fall of the American Empire.)

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