Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save. -- Will Rogers
In Part 1 of Gimme a Break, I suggested that the reason why advertising doesn't work very well anymore is because we've essentially eliminated the commercial break from our lives – especially during the commercial break, which nowadays more closely resembles a digital feeding frenzy, and hence destroys the very ad model it's designed to serve. In fact, our entire on-demand lives have devolved into extended digital feeding frenzies, with no time for reflection, no tolerance whatsoever for intrusion, and no breaks from the media action.
What bothers me most about the current state of advertising and marketing, however, is how utterly predatory and atavistic we've become since the mid-1990s, when twenty-something digital evangelists decided that advertisers and marketers should a) engage in brand dialogues with consumers (mostly because there was suddenly a shitload of new digital technology to foist on them), and b) conduct said brand dialogues in a thoroughly mediated and seamless digital world, which of course renders impossible the requisite intrusion and time to establish and maintain any meaningful dialogue – brand or otherwise – with anyone. Baffled and besieged, older, more sober generations of advertisers and marketers deferred immediately and stepped aside, mostly because they couldn't reboot their own computers without the help of the twenty-somethings. The days of the commercial break were clearly numbered.
Of course the predatory attribute I assigned above should not be confused with anything or anyone forward-thinking or proactive, and is wholly reactive instead (hence its atavistic nature), far more akin to the desperate pride of lions that haunts a watering hole during a deadly drought than the same willful pride that hunts at night when water and game are plentiful. Thus today's generation of advertisers and marketers, all clustered like starving lions around the same watering hole, truly believe that they owe their jobs to consumer opinion, and are therefore compelled to react like lemmings as quickly as possible to perceived consumer demand – with every digital technology in their arsenal. By contrast, their displaced predecessors knew otherwise: that there is no such thing as consumer demand except to the extent that marketers and advertisers create it. The good ones knew something else also: that job one in creating consumer demand was to create and protect the integrity of the commercial break, what Bill Bernbach called the environment to buy.
But how can we possibly expect others to take a break long enough to engage our brand messages if we can't take one for ourselves? Remember, we as marketers and advertisers create and shape consumer demand. And if we can't control how we spend our own time, how can we as marketers and advertisers possibly hope to influence how others spend theirs?
The following is an excerpt from a recent post I made to the Oldtimers Foundation listserv:
To the question of how we can affect change in the midst of our day jobs and selfish best interests, I would reply, "First, slow down." Our agendas are already far too full and far too hectic to engage in or otherwise entertain meaningful thought and discourse. We've turned time -- our only real inventory -- into an enemy. We cannot begin to accommodate new thoughts and behaviors unless and until we find a way to intervene in our own lives long and frequently enough to prepare the soil of our souls for new seeds. We cannot affect meaningful change in ourselves or others unless and until we reclaim our time.
Of course the reclamation of our time is easier said than done, but -- in all earnestness -- I would suggest the following remedial steps:
1. Change your career objective right now. Aspire instead to take a nap, go for a walk, read a good novel or otherwise tune out completely for at least an hour during the course of each work day. No digital devices or electronic media allowed (with the sole exception of music). We spend our entire work lives striving for the moment when we can retire, put our feet up, and take a nap. My suggestion therefore is to eliminate the career middle man and head straight for the nap. You (and just about everyone else you know) will thank me later. It ain't about money at the end of the day; it's about time, and how and where and with whom we spend it. The rest of your work day will fall magically into place once you aspire -- first and foremost -- to take a nap as your new career objective.
2. Be conscious of your tools. Move your personal and professional communications up the emotional impact ladder at every opportunity. In other words, consciously choose communications tools that require more deliberation and deliver more heart and soul -- like a phone call or a well-crafted letter or a face-to-face meeting over an email, text message or tweet -- whenever possible. Always choose quality over quantity (because it's always your choice), and always choose deliberateness over speed; don't communicate on the run except in emergencies. Remember: speed kills.
3. Resist the narcotic impulse to check your email inbox for the first hour of every day. Each time you sit down first thing in the morning to check your email inbox, you automatically put your own agenda dead last behind the collective agendas of all the emails you find there. In doing so you invite a purely reactive mindset that forces you to play catchup for the balance of your day (and life).
Each of the above suggestions requires time and conscious deliberation. But that's the point. We can choose to intervene in our own lives and industry or someone or something else will intervene for us -- guaranteed.
Advertisers, take a nap, and when you wake up encourage your agency contacts to take a nap also. Mandate a no-email period each morning. Get them out of the fire-fighting business and into the fire-starting business. Their performance will improve and so will yours.
Agencies, create a digital media-free area where your employees can sit down and talk quietly, read a book, or just stretch out and take a nap. Their performance will improve and so will yours.
Time is of the essence, but only when we honor it, only when we befriend it. Consider therefore the words of Jim Goodwin and Sydney J. Harris:
"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it."
And entertain right now the sage advice of Lily Tomlin:
"For fast-acting relief, try slowing down."
About Jeff Einstein and the Brothers Einstein
Jeff Einstein is one-half of the Brothers Einstein, a creative strategy and branding boutique. The Brothers Einstein work with select rapid-growth clients to help define and execute healthy brand strategies in a toxic media environment.