#34 – On authenticity, meme culture, gaps, and the collapse of businesses and marketing
This week, Merriam-Webster have revealed their word of the year, so we’ll look a bit at why the world seems to long for authenticity and what meme culture has to do with that. The second half of the issue looks at the issue of declining quality in advertising, the diminishing role of marketing, and a practical tip on how to reverse at least the former.
Next week, we’ll try something new – with the introduction of an additional segment featuring more of a deep dive into certain topics. For a start, I’ll answer a question that I elegantly dodged in a piece I’ve written about the power of community a while back: with a framework on how to you actually do it.
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But for now: enjoy the clicks. And please feel free to forward this issue to one of your friends.
Authentic Named Word Of The Year. Perhaps in a move that surprises exactly nobody, in the advent of AI the chosen word of the year is “authentic”. Which probably will lead to a collective rejoicing in marketing teams around the world who will proudly point to their brand onions and houses at that little, innocent, pointless adjective labelled “values” feeling very smug about how well their work has aged. The campaign briefs for next year are now basically writing themselves (and probably with the help of a friendly GPT.)
The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture. Talking of authenticity, this post from 2018 couldn’t have slid into my inbox at a more opportune time. It’s a long read but even just the first few paragraphs emphasise why the search for authenticity isn’t new – and will be an ongoing struggle that is not only connected to AI or technology.
Collapse: Learning from past failures. What’s not to like about a well-drawn parallel? Last week I shared a piece that nudges businesses to consider competition based on future ambitions, not current ones, in order to build future relevance. This piece talks a bit about businesses’ blindness (or ignorance) of larger outside shifts that sit outside the immediate market forces but have much more dramatic long term impact on the enterprise. The author talks about four stages, each stage makes it increasingly harder to “get back to normal”: failure of anticipation, failure of inaction, failure of resolution, failure of reversal. The sobering realisation after reading this is, that every business exists on the threshold of stage one and two, every single day. How stressful.
Everything You Need to Know About A.I., Advertising and Killing Our Planet. Another piece easily to be dismissed as an industry veteran lamenting the decline in quality in advertising, if it (1) wasn’t so well written, and (2) on point. Just as we all just suffered through the Black Friday/Cyber Week shopping frenzy where we spent unnecessary amounts of money on unnecessary amounts of stuff that will end up in unnecessary large piles of landfill, a shit ton of marketing and advertising thinking is poor quality because its role has been shifting in the last decade or so. (Which is the topic of the next article.) The only thing I might tweak in this piece is the observation that “thinking like this is rare” – it’s actually uncommon. (I hope you appreciate what I did here.)
Weaponizing The Wanamaker Paradox. This article talks at length about the many reasons why marketing (and, in consequence, the quality in advertising) has been in decline in the past decade: ”Marketing was once a Big Number game. It dealt with customers, products, competition, strategy, growth, and business performance accelerators we call brands (thank you, Jonathan, for this definition) that directly contributed to the Big Number of enterprise value. Then, digital came along, and marketing began shifting toward a new and tactical existence as a little numbers game. Instead of top-line impact, marketing had a new master, bottom-line efficiency. Instead of growth, it was now obsessing over budget protection. Instead of strategy, it became mired in operational efficiency. Instead of the Big Number goal of increasing enterprise value, it found itself drowning in little number goals like impressions, attribution, ROI, and ROAS.” It goes on to show how the role of the CMO on boards has shifted and diminished, and mentions the hair raising fact that less than 30% working in marketing are actually trained in the subject matter: ”That’s an absolutely stunning statistic. Imagine, for a second, if less than 30% of finance hires had any training in finance or if less than 30% of legal hires had any training in the law. It’s ridiculous, right? But seemingly, we think it entirely acceptable to have untrained marketers. Why? Well, the only reason I can think of is that we’ve decided it isn’t all that important.”
Mind the gap. Lastly, to finish on some practical advice on how to improve the quality of your advertising, there’s this piece of Richard Holman that eloquently explains what I very, very briefly touched on in last week’s issue: the subcortical dopaminergic reward network. Giving your audience space in your work to figure it out for themselves might be risky, but it is commercially sensible. Of course it’s not easy to get the balance right, but that’s what you hire great writers and agencies for: so they can help you get it right. “The comedian Jerry Seinfeld has used a simar analogy to the gap in talking about how comedy works. He talks about a joke occupying the space between two cliffs. The audience has to trust the comedian to leap across that space with them. If there’s no distance between the cliffs then the leap is unremarkable and there’s no feeling of satisfaction – the joke is ‘meh’. Conversely, if the gap is too big, the audience fall in the space between and you’ve lost them.”
That’s it for this week. I hope the articles above spark some ideas and inspiration.
I see you here next week, for a new edition of Six Links of Inspiration – and a bonus edition mid-week with a framework on how to connect brands to communities.
See you then,