Oct 2, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Adland


I don’t know Curt Detweiler. Never even heard of him until this morning when, catching up on my ad trades, I clicked on this article announcing that he’d been named to a senior creative role at McCann in San Francisco.

There were over 50 comments attached to the article. But what was truly odd was that while most of them were both positive and completely innocuous (e.g. “Curt is a great guy! I wish him well! Great hire!”) not a single poster used anything remotely resembling their real name. (Which happens enough on Adweek, but rarely to this degree.)

Now my first thought was that maybe these comments were a PR effort from McCann or from Detweiler himself, a thought echoed by several commenters.

But it seemed like an awful lot of effort for the PR agency. A dozen comments, maybe. But 50?

Which leaves the other option: that people in the ad business are so scared of actually being seen to have an opinion on anything, that even something as banal as publicly congratulating a co-worker is thought to be akin to career suicide.

I’m at a loss to understand why though. What are people afraid of and why are they so loathe to be seen as having opinions?

There’s the “you’re not Bill Bernbach” factor, something I had discussed with Ana Andjelic not too long ago, where there’s a strong undercurrent of “only famous people are allowed to have opinions” sentiment within the industry.

I’m thinking that comes from the fact that everyone-- from clients to their spouses to the guy in the next seat on the airplane-- thinks they can write ads. So that people in the industry develop a fierce attachment to the idea that they alone possess the talent and expertise to create ads. As such, only the most talented of this already talented cadre are allowed to express opinions. Everyone else just needs to shut up and let the professionals do their work.

This circling the wagons effect is no doubt exacerbated by the spate of user-generated content advertisers are turning to and the fact that digital media seems to rely less and less on clever headlines, funny visuals and all the other things that once allowed advertising creatives to set themselves apart.

Or it could be nothing more than a follow-the-leader type thing and once the first 5 commenters used pseudonyms, everyone else did too.

But somehow, I don't think so.

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