Friday, January 30, 2009

And they're off!

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us, and NBC has reportedly managed to sell out its ad minutes, despite the economy, at as much as $300,000 a second. Madison Avenue rejoices, this being the best news since Wall Street’s meltdown freed up all that parking in lower Manhattan.

I get tiresomely cranky with the dinosaurs-at-the-tarpit condition of the advertising business these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love advertising. I do. I love it when it connects consumers to brands. I love it passionately when it actually adds value to those brands. But I don’t love it when it just amuses people. That’s what Janet Jackson is for.

No, I think there are two sober messages in all this: First, the reason NBC can get $300,000 a second for air time on this program is that big television audiences are a rare commodity. The nearly two thirds of high-earning households in America that use DVRs can skip the ads on 30 Rock, but they have to watch the Super Bowl live. And second, the ads have become part of the show in more ways than one. They are now consensually understood to be entertainment. It’s no more logical that this leads automatically to persuasion than that watching the game makes you want to buy the Steelers. Faddishness aside, this might be one reason why so many of this year's advertisers are using their spots to drive viewers to the web. (Here’s an interesting piece on this).

Enjoy the game. Enjoy the show. And enjoy the ads. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that all this creativity is a positive sign for the business. The Super Bowl no more signals the healthy future of advertising than the Kentucky Derby does the healthy future of horses as a commuting option. For most people, obstinate poop producers are only entertaining once a year or so, and only then at a safe distance.

And even then only as long as they’re not lame.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Televised After All.

Cynicism was hauled out into the town square yesterday and shot. (Its dimwitted cousin, irony, was spared execution and exiled to France). And as I watched the whole thing unfold on CNN from a barstool at Philadelphia International Airport, every break to commercial felt like a pie in the face. All of a sudden, the detached, puerile slacker humor that advertising has used to cover its embarrassment for the last decade or so looks ridiculous. Looking around at the upturned faces in the bar, I had the very strong feeling that American self-esteem was recovering very quickly indeed, and one casualty might just be their tolerance for being treated like greedy morons by the people who are trying to sell them things.

Hey, a guy can hope.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Authors@Google hosts The Orange Code.

Arkadi Kuhlmann and I were invited to speak at an Authors@Google talk in New York last November, and the video was posted yesterday. Authors@Google is kind of like a lunch 'n learn, except lunch gets prepared by, oh, say, Mario Bartali. And the guest speaker is, oh, say, Barack Obama.

Or us.

And lunch really was delicious.