Saturday, September 3, 2011

The tyranny of entertainment.

      In his book, "Life: the Movie", Neal Gabler points out that "No medium generated images like television...Compelled to keep us stimulated, less we switch channels or switch the set off altogether, television took everything on its screen and converted it to entertainment."

      Neal Postman, the author of "Amusing Ourselves to Death", took it one step further. To him, television was the cosmology that governed American life.

      Entertainment-as-life actually started much earlier than television. The editor of the original Vanity Fair magazine, Frank Crowninshield, described his magazine as an "increased devotion to pleasure, to happiness, to dancing, to sport, to the delights of the country, to laugher, to all forms of cheerfulness."

      This is how the critic Geoffrey O'Brien described the movies: "Everybody could go in the same dark room --- no matter where it happened to be located --- and zero in on precisely the same dream."

      The Internet helps us get to that dream faster, personalized to our tastes. This is the environment of intended pleasure in which our culture bathes us. The environment in which marketing and advertising either thrive or die.

      Who's the champion in the lingerie business? Maidenform, which informs us about the latest features in good fit, or Victoria's Secret, which entertains us with a fashion show? Who's the most talked-about success in the insurance business? Is it rock solid Prudential, or a parade of funny ducks, geckos, and a wily salesperson named Flo? In some categories, it's hard to choose a champion. Both Coke's and Pepsi's advertising will be glad to tickle you into being happy.

       Have marketing and advertising turned into entertainment? You bet. Is that good or bad?

       I believe it all depends on how the entertainment is being used. Bill Bernbach, the great creative person  that upset the "Mad Men" years, used to say that it's only okay to show a man standing on his head if you're advertising trousers with zippers on the pockets, so things won't fall out. That's the point. If the humor, music, animals, dancing, icons, and general fooling around help demonstrate something, or help us remember something, that's fine. If not, all that entertainment is wasted effort.

       For us in marketing, entertainment is a tool, not an end in itself.

      Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go put on my clown make-up.


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