"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."
The phrase that graces the title of this article was first mentioned in Aldous Huxley's novel, Island. Three years later, Frank Herbert used these same words in Dune, for the Bene Gesserit members as a litany to calm themselves in perilous times.
Do we live in perilous times?
The quick answer is, of course, "yes". But what makes them perilous has less to do with what's happening around us and more to do with what's going on inside us. When you look around, you can sense the fear. Peril breeds insecurity. Fear begets more fear.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Fear defeats more people than any other thing in the world." This parses with my own experience with online industry discussion groups. The dialogue has become guarded, the fear palpable, fueled by an even greater fear to look the enemy in the eye.
Worse yet, we've empowered this demon by succumbing to it. Instead of performing to our hopes and dreams, we've surrendered to our fears. Instead of confronting our flawed logic, we've become unwitting pawns in a chess game we cannot win. Under the rubric of practicality, we've crushed the spirit that should inspire us.
Fear has led to a rush for the comfort of the herd. Online was once a place where, inspired by hopes and dreams, lions roared and innovation flowered. Yet now, with but a handful of notable exceptions, innovation has ceded control to a specious, algorithmic definition of human behavior.
Fear obscures vision. Otherwise it would be easy for anyone to recognize that "innovative" mathematical models do not translate to better response rates at all. Case in point: I was recently contacted by a major online publication wishing to sell me advertising. They claimed to offer "the most targeted" audience for our message.
They said we could expect a .35% click through rate.
The real tragedy is not the low CTR. The real tragedy is the sales rep's – indeed, our entire industry's – proud defiance of a cup that is precisely 99.65% empty! What else but fear to confront the truth could justify such utter idiocy and insanity? About 100 years ago, there was a French Prime Minister, Leon Blum, who said, "The free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought." With success measured by a CTR of .35%, pretty soon there will be nothing left to think about!
There are crimes of commission, and crimes of omission, both predicated on fear. Touting a .35% response rate by any measure is a crime of commission. Refusing to note, let alone address, the companion 99.65% failure rate is a crime of omission. When we lead quiet lives of fear-based crime, the first thing we steal is always our own trust and credibility. Common sense dictates that a problem must be acknowledged before it can be solved. Similarly, we must confront our fears before we can overcome them.
Ray, the little kid in Jerry Maguire, said, "D'you know that bees and dogs can smell fear?" Let's apply this axiom to our own media ecology:
This group has become subservient to the spreadsheet, compelled to produce an ROI within a time horizon that has effectively reduced the entire marketing process to the transaction.
These folks have been reduced to sycophants, afraid to tell their clients--much less, themselves--what they need to hear. Instead, agencies rework their mission statements to fit the language of the spreadsheet-driven brand managers.
Faced with ever declining CPMs, media owners court the agencies who serve the brand managers who defer to the math.
Can you sense where I'm going with this modern-day version of There Was An Old Woman? You know, the song about the old woman who swallowed a fly. Where every stanza ends in "…perhaps she'll die."
There are so many brilliant minds in our industry, yet we've allowed fear to take hostage the very thinking that can free us. We've chosen to play it safe. We've sold our souls to the lowest bidder. We've consigned performance to a 99.65% failure rate. We've disengaged.
A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt might help right now:
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every
experience in which you really stop to look fear in the
face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
I am writing for my friends and for my two boys studying media in college. I want to help an industry that has fed my family for so many years. The old woman doesn't have to die. There is a way out. We can look fear right in the eye and stare it down with our hopes and dreams. We can triumph over all that comes our way.
I leave you with yet one more thought; one that reaches beyond religiosity. Please feel free to replace "faith" with "dreams" if you wish.
Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith
empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens,
faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable.
--Harry Emerson Fosdick
About Jaffer Ali and Vidsense: Jaffer Ali is CEO of Vidsense, the Web's largest video advertising network. With more than 80,000 advertiser-friendly video clips licensed from major film and TV studios, the Vidsense network of more than 20,000 safe-for-work partner websites delivers millions of qualified visitors directly to advertiser websites on a pure Pay-Per-Click (PPC) basis. Vidsense is to Adsense what video is to print -- a far more engaging and compelling environment for consumers and advertisers alike.