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March 24, 2009
Advertising Doesn't Work On Me Anymore
 
Aspirational, image-based advertising (what most of you are doing these days no matter the media) is dead, buried, rotted and is now fine maggot dust.
Why?
Because it was and always is a mere mask between the truth of a product or service experience and all of us.
I say us, because when we think we're "we" and they're "them" we are forever lost.
 
Agencies and marketers have always created and are still creating myths, masks and diversions, from licentious cigarette advertising to windswept autumnal roads in car ads, on and on and on.
 
So here are the sea changes I've noted and I think are most worth talking about and debating.
 
1) We are all performers now, there are no more audience members. From legion youtube uploaders to enthusiastic amazon reviewers, we are all active participants. Brands, take note. Agencies, get going. And keep reading. Fast forward ten years and guess what "ownership" of music, video and media files will mean.
 
2) Climate change. Like holocaust deniers, I just ignore naysayers about the changes in this planet and the need to do something-yesterday. We are faced with two choices, switch or cut. Switch products, habits, processes and behaviors. Or cut spending, travel, packaging, usage, output, energy, etc. This affects us, by not printing out e-mails, unplugging the computers each night and doing more iChat video conferencing than domestic flights as three easy examples. Marketers and agencies can be more responsible in ad creation and publishing, in the making and production of every tactic. We don't need "green" branding festivals where the amount of promotional material creates a landfill the size of a stadium in the name of capturing e-mail addresses. Use the web, make fewer but more powerful ideas and save so much waste.
 
3) Brands are no longer in control of their brands. Put my previous points together like this. On one hand, it is easier than ever to "look behind the label" and discover what a company is really all about-to expose greenwashing, outright lies or poor user experience and performance. And this discovery becomes instant publicity via twitter, digg, facebook and blogs. So as an example, skittles has realized most of my present points and chosen to let go of its control and surrender to user generated content but limit its liability via a serious release form on the home page. I think this is smart, because surrendering to the public can lead to increased trust and likability. In the near future, agencies will need internal or partnered legal online property and content managers to manage and direct this issue. For instance, at what point is a submitted online video a violation of copyright and trademarks, a liability for dangerous insinuations or activity; or a valuable free advertising tactic from the other side of the brand fence? See carrotmob for further radical inspiration.
 
4) Successful brands are simply companies that do what they say they do. And are seen doing it by enthusiasts. Cases in point: What is the brand image of EBay? It has none, it is simply a site for enthusiasts to buy and sell. No slogan or commercial can enhance the experience of an auction, a cunningly executed winning bid or the feeling of the biggest garage sale on the planet. And Amazon (though its name is surely most literal) is simply where book, music and other product enthusiasts contribute passionate reviews for free and buying takes place in this enthusiast's Xanadu, surrounded by ratings, reviews, suggestions and a community of experts on whatever you want to buy. Amazon simply makes it happen elegantly, reliably, cleanly as a friend. What's key is the actual experience, not an aspirational mask of image.
 
So, what is the way forward?
Creativity, innovation and beauty, same as ever. But from this day, innovate and create something worthwhile inside your clients and let the public in. Don't launch a sustainability scheme and ruin it by saying you're wonderful. Let NGOs and other groups discover the fact and let them sell or dissuade. Don't drop acid and create a Gatorade Holy G campaign to get people to accept high fructose corn syrup. Innovate the packaging towards sustainable, reusable solutions and sponsor elementary school athletics– save a sports program that's suffering due to tax revenue decreases, promote community and togetherness after a workout-support dropping the ear buds for real buds and a swig of the G as your muscles recover. Support keeping your car, mobile handset and computer longer and reward recyclers. Create messages of togetherness, social interaction vs isolation, promote cooperatives and neighborhood micro associations online. Be the brand (whatever it is) that unites people for a common good, not crowbarring a social site around your latest brand slogan.
 
Become and stay mobile, agile, global. Throw out the rules, connect to your birthright of creative passion. Forget that you're a marketing manager, creative director or intern. Remember you're a human being that has bills to pay, air to breathe, food to eat, a body to keep healthy and a mirror to look in. Then your work has a chance at being relevant and enormously effective in this day and age.
 
That's enough for now. If some of you follow my advice, then the effort is greatly beneficial. But no matter what, there is much to be done. I'm going back to it right now. More always on my blog. I feel the traction and momentum, do you?
 
paul macfarlane
professional human being
 

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As a strategist, writer, designer, producer, director, actor, musician, performer, teacher, trainer and speaker, creative marketing was a potentially ideal career for Paul. Yet after years of winning dozens of global creativity awards with various agencies, Paul gave up the awards pursuit and became a professional human being.

Paul launched the1101experiment in 2001, focusing on bringing top-level strategy, creativity and multi-dimensional success to global brands, but with an added emphasis on positive ethical and social opportunities. Paul's thinking has been published worldwide and has predicted many global cultural shifts long before they happened. 
Paul leads a mastermind network of friends, colleagues and multi-talented professionals from around the world who are strategists, writers, artists, web, social and interactive specialists, who are involved on all client work.
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