Ideas

Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist, says that software is eating the world.

I’d say that ideas are eating the world.

An idea is weightless. An idea is also like liquid Mercury. It runs everywhere and into every fissure.

Ideas require a mind and they require the minds of others for delivery. But they’re not a tangible thing.  Ideas have their own propulsion system and they’re indelible.

 

Before she left him she asked:

Those photos of us. Did you back them up?

Yes, he said.

In my mind and in my heart.

 

Martin Sorrell, leader of the world’s largest advertising and marketing conglomerate, recently said:

“The definition of creativity needs to change. We’re not in the advertising business anymore.”

He added:

“If you are given some data that helps you understand what the consumer is thinking about in either a practical, psychological or emotional basis then you’re going to come up with more stimulation. 5 percent of what we do now, Don Draper and maybe even Sir John Hegarty wouldn’t recognise. In that cocktail it’s very tough to grow your top line and you have to contain your costs… companies are pulling in their horns and becoming very risk averse.”

Advertising is having a very tough time.  Yes, technology is enabling advertisers to serve up thousands of versions of ads that are tailored to the behaviours of consumers.  Yes, ads follow us around the web like bits of sticky tape on our shoes.  Yes, ads are channeled in our direction based on our browsing habits. [Some sites that most of us visit on a regular basis contain more than 50 pieces of tracking technology, invisible to us, that enable advertisers to make reasoned decisions about what we might be interested in.]

And yet, we do our best to avoid advertising.  Adblocking technology cuts it out of our lives.  We unsubscribe, we fast forward, we binge watch on ad-free services, we view on demand rather than at time of broadcast.  We have many ways of avoiding being told, cajoled, reminded to buy.

Each Christmas, retailers deliver their blockbuster ads – and each year they garner a huge amount of attention.  But at their heart, these aren’t ads.  They’re ideas.  The reason we talk about them is because they don’t conform to the definition of advertising, which is ‘the activity or profession of producing advertisements for commercial products or services’.  Yes, yes, I’ve heard the argument that advertising isn’t all about ‘buy this’, ‘great deal’, etc, etc, and how the role of advertising can be to affirm a decision, create a context within which someone chooses to buy, etc.  But actually, this is advertising attempting to steal PR’s clothes.  In my opinion, the so-called Christmas retail ads are actually Christmas retail PR stunts, with the media and social attention more important to their success than the expensive bought time on air or on the page.

The fact is that ideas no longer require an inordinately expensive means of distribution.  With the right idea, we can reach a global audience of 300 million on Twitter with a sentence and a picture.  With the right idea, we can make the front page of a news site.

My argument is that the smartest money goes into the thought and not into the means of propagating the thought.  Let the propagation, in the right hands, largely look after itself.  Invest in thinking, not endless, expensive process, which might make you feel good momentarily and fill a few spreadsheets but won’t necessarily bring customers to your door.

I watched and enjoyed Mad Men.  I still maintain that Don Draper’s most significant contributions to his firm [that open letter, for instance] were acts of PR, not advertising.

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