It's The End Of The World, And We Blissfully Ignore All The Warning Signs

When I was studying marketing, I was fascinated to learn about cognitive dissonance. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can share a simple and succinct description of this phenomenon in case you need a refresher: “Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.”

Typically, this means finding “convenient truths” or beliefs that mitigate the inconsistency.

Humans display this behavior all the time. We know smoking kills you — yet many people smoke. We know that pollution is slowly destroying the world we live in, but we consume more and more of everything each year. Cognitively we know these things, but the discomfort that these facts create because we do not like or cannot imagine a life without the very things that are causing the problem allow us to conveniently forget or ignore those facts.



It is the same with our industry. Last week, we learned that the Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates that “the cost to the ad industry of consumers using ad blockers to protect themselves from digital malware is $781 million,” and the total estimated cost of the “untrustworthy” supply chain is $8.2 billion. That would make it the 143rd largest country in GDP worldwide!

At the same time, all indicators for digital ad spend show increases. This is cognitive dissonance at its purest. All of us — the industry as a whole — actively avoids situations and information likely to increase dissonance and discomfort.

The article with the IAB statistics as published on MediaPost received a meager 50 shares and two “recommends” (kind of a net promoter score). A MediaPost article on Target’s website crashing during Cyber Monday received 290 shares and 4 “recommends.”

Another example from MediaPost last week: Brian Wieser senior researcher from Pivotal Research, “citing ‘limited creation’ of the kind of new mass marketing categories known to stimulate ad spending as well as a ‘diminished role’ for local marketplaces, has revised his long-term outlook for growth of our industry to be at a tepid pace."

I looked up the definition of “tepid” too, just so we know what we’re talking about. Merriam-Webster defines it as “lacking in passion, force, or zest.”

And what was the industry’s answer to this bombshell? Forceful denial? Creative re-imagination of our business? Of course not, because the message creates immediate cognitive dissonance. So what we got instead, for instance, was a reshuffling of Publicis’ organizational model (an early champion of tepid growth), which looked to me as if the company were replacing one silo-ed model with a new silo-ed model. And we also had GE’s CMO saying she did not believe in TV advertising anymore, except live TV like sports and Jimmy Fallon.

I actually believe that what the industry is displaying is what George Orwell in “1984” called “doublethink”: “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.”

Yup — we’re doomed.

3 comments about "It's The End Of The World, And We Blissfully Ignore All The Warning Signs".
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  1. Russell Isaacson from sovrn Holdings, Inc., December 7, 2015 at 4:57 p.m.

    Nice job framing ad blocking in the context of cognitive dissonance. Not to quibble, but $8.2BN is much lower than the individual GDP of the world's top 50 countries (e.g., Czech Republic, at 50th, has a GDP of $182BN).

  2. George Watson from Plain English, December 8, 2015 at 10:47 a.m.

    Nice job of pointing out the growing social (ir)relevance of marketing and advertising in the age of too much information. But I suspect what the IAB was really focusing on was the 'theft' of all that valuable 'intellectual property' and the 'need' for greater security and law enforcement. The TPP is coming... wait for it.

    Stepping back to gain additional context for the 'end of world' scenario however, we see the unavoidable, inevitable consequence of concentration of wealth, monopolization, and the end of any real market competition. Brands under such circumstances become unnecessary and marketing, like corporate management, becomes concerned only with facades and the quarterly report on profit.

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA) replied, December 8, 2015 at 12:55 p.m.

    @Russell: addressed the GDP error. I missed 3 zero's but whose counting with these kind of numbers! Thanks for spotting my mistake!

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