Thoughts on Anti-Social Media

I was recently interviewed by a marketing student. Here’s some of what I didn’t know I had to say:

Q: How have you seen social media change your work?

Social Media has created a “ME-centric” world, where people are constantly updating, posting, and bragging about what they are doing at any given moment. From Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, we spend hours each day talking about ourselves and checking in on our networks of friends (or un-friends). This is time that used to be spent either watching TV, reading, talking—or actually doing things. When it comes to advertising, we’ve seen an exodus from traditional media to the internet. The rise of rich banner ads and web films has exploded in the last five years.

In one way it is much harder to reach a consumer. It used to be that you could run an ad during a TV show, like “24” or “Friends”, and pretty much every 20-35 year old would see it. That was the era of appointment television. Today, people are time-shifting on their DVRs, streaming Netflix, or splitting their attention across the 700 cable channels. Or they’re on Facebook. You have to spread your media dollars a lot wider to reach them these days.

On the plus side, if we as advertisers can learn about a consumer through his social media posts, then we can use that information to post ads and messages that the person may find relevant. For instance, if a person “likes” “Squaw Valley”, then Toyota might display targeted ads featuring 4x4 trucks and SUVs in the snow. People still hate advertising, but if it’s about something that interests them, they’ll hate it slightly less.

Q: How do you feel social media will change your children’s childhood in comparison to your own?

When I was a kid, we had to actually make phone calls to keep in touch. Or spend time hanging out. Growing up, we just used to walk into each other’s house to play. Today, doors are locked, and parents have to schedule “Play Dates” for their kids to get together.

I suppose social media makes it easier for teens to find parties. And it’s easier for kids to connect with friends who have similar interests. I worry about cyber-bullying. And it creates a sense of isolation. If you are online, then you are less inclined to get together with other kids and do stuff. And doing stuff is where memories are made.

I would hope that my children will have the self-control to use social media as a tool, and not a crutch. It’s addictive, shallow, and never-ending. It’s a bit like a cheap drug—one that probably is not so good for us in the long run.

Q: Do you see these changes as positive or negative and why?

In general, change is going to happen. And if you think about the rate of change in the world, technology, communications, and social media are evolving and being revolutionized at an every-increasing speed. There have been more technological advances in the past 40 years, than the previous 400.

That means that children are growing up in a seriously ADD world. They don’t have time to just chill and be kids. They are being asked to multi-task, build websites, create startups, and connect, connect, connect—with little down time for their creativity to be developed. Education has changed due to the internet as well. Now we don’t actually have to learn anything. We can just Google it.

Now I don’t think that all change is bad. I am amazed at the things I’ve been able to produce using just a computer or a cell phone and the internet. Is there a limit to what we can imagine for the future? The only limit will be if children’s imaginations are stunted by a lack of time to just explore and be creative. That means we all really need to start hanging up on social media. Perhaps it’s time for the rise of anti-social media? Don’t click “like.” Let’s click “ignore.”



I recommend a book by Simon Sinek: “Start With Why.” It changed the way we advertise at TiVo. There’s also a TED Talk for folks with short attention spans:

Most companies know WHAT they do, and WHAT they sell. They may know HOW they do it, but very few know WHY. As an example, Simon explores how Apple could sell us everything from iPhones and iPads to iBlenders based on the simple notion that their WHY is “to challenge convention”.

So often in advertising, we don’t stop to think about why customers should care about us. We act like if only they knew about our 15 new features, they would surely buy our product. In fact, we reason, there could be no possible argument against buying it. But that’s where we get hung up on WHATs.

As Simon reminds us: “Customers don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it.”

Here are some recent campaigns with strong WHYs: Mini “Let’s Motor,” HP “Invent”, Levi’s “Go Forth”, Jet Blue “Happy Jetting”, VW “Drivers wanted,” and of course Nike “Just Do It”.

So if your client or company suggests advertising their new product with a list of WHATs, perhaps it’s time to Think Different.


Why branding?

The other day I spotted a silver sedan on the road with absolutely no logos, markings or other identification. It struck me as really odd, and reminded me just how many brands we are exposed to as part of our daily landscape. Interestingly, not having a logo made this car stand out. But it felt generic. I imagined buying this car. Would I feel safe in it? Tell my friends about it? Trust the company that made it?

This got me thinking about the importance of branding and how much value those little logos carry. Take a look at the two cars above. One costs about $30K more than the other. Can you guess which? And of that $30K, how much can you attribute to the logo?

This is the value of branding. It requires bold creative, consistently applied, and a long-term investment. It’s about finding something to stand for, and then staying with it, so customers can believe it, identify with it, and share it. And the funny thing is, as with the photo above, a logo doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be there.



Then and now.

No wonder my brain hurts.


Getting to the Big Idea, the Teflon method.

I usually start by asking: Is the brief right? Because it almost always isn’t. Most creative briefs cannot lead to good advertising unless they are developed with input from creatives—or at least a planner with some creative bones (a British accent is helpful). A fresh brief will lead to fresh ideas. As long as you have enough time to do it right. 

It’s like the old story about cows that are let out of a barn. The ones who stop at the first grass they come across end up chewing well-trod bits of weeds and muddy tufts. The more adventurous cows who make it past the first (or second) pastures find the good, deep, tasty stuff. Just don’t go too far and become roadkill.

Of course, obstacles are everywhere. No budget. Weak coffee. A creative partner who’s been beaten down. Focus groups. The client’s wife. They all form a virtually impenetrable wall separating you from success. And then there’s the problem that Crispin already did whatever you’re thinking of doing.

The painful reality is that this business is not just about finding the Big Idea. It’s just as important to sell the Big Idea. So unless you have the right attitude, advertising will kill you. For every 100 ideas you have, it’s just a fact of life that 99 of your babies will die. You have to be completely OK with rejection from your partner, the creative director, the account team, and the client. And if somehow your idea gets produced? Well, congratulations. Now you can be rejected by the consumer.

The bottom line: be Teflon. Don’t let failure stick—smile and roll with it. Because when it comes to getting to the Big Idea, if you don’t enjoy the journey, you’ll never make it to the destination.