Commentary

Much Adieu About Nothing

S-curve neck and feathered white. Lots of float and little flight.

Aristocratic for a bird. In German, ach!,  a dirty word.

On a lake or on a pond. It’s a swan swan swan.

Yeah a swan swan swan.

Come on baby shake it loose. It ain’t a duck and ain’t a goose.

It’s a swan swan swan.  It’s a swan.

 

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So, yeah, this is my swan song.  

After four years at MediaPost, I'm leaving to pursue personal interests. Maybe do a little consulting. No, I'm going to work on that novel. No, I'm gonna spend more time with my family. Yeah, that's it, more time with my family. 

Or whatever. MediaPost is like the bartender at closing time. “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.”  

No malice or firing for cause, mind you. And absolutely no hard feelings. I just happen to work in the very industry whose slow and tortuous death I make a living documenting. It's like an entomologist dying of bee stings.

Or something. I'd come up with a better analogy, but why bother?  When I hit “send” I'm off the clock.

I must say this, however. It has been a great four years. MediaPost has given me absolute freedom to opine on any subject I chose, and absolute freedom in my style of doing it. Apart from the copyediting that has saved my sorry ass from embarrassment more times than I can count, my thoughts have been delivered to you without the slightest interference. And when readers have complained about my tone or my politics, management has unfailingly had my back.

So this is the most amicable divorce ever. I get to see other people. They get the house.

Naturally, I've gone back to review what has gone on in this space over the course of 200 columns. What I discovered was a wide variety of subject matter: The “Ben Franklin Effect” in consumer psychology, the Super Bowl, P.R. malfeasance, Forbes, Grumpy Cat, AOL, Abercrombie & Fitch, the soft-drink business, Comcast, bots, the French, Bitcoin and who knows what all.

The other thing I discovered was a short list of hobby horses.

Without actually tabulating, I estimate that 100 of my MediaPost pieces have mainly concerned Facebook, native advertising, Facebook, the ongoing media-revenue catastrophe, ad tech, social media dystopia, Trump, Facebook and Facebook. That is because in one way or another, all of these subjects pose grave threats to the media industry, to marketing, to democracy and to society writ large. Facebook is intriguing because it is such a valuable utility for a billion-plus users. But it is also a black hole whose incalculable gravity sucks too much attention, money, democracy and privacy into its all-consuming maw.

I'd fix the mixed metaphor, but why bother? When I hit “send” I'll be off the clock.

So since this is indeed my MediaPost swan song, let me go all Eisenhower on you and remind you what to fear. Not the military-industrial complex, but other institutions and practices that superficially seem to represent security and progress but also pose grave threats:

1)  Ad tech. This is a force in the media economy that is something like Wall Street in the general economy. It takes money, but adds little value. It is instead a middleman, consuming ever-larger percentages of media spend (with astonishing lack of accountability) at the expense of marketers and media alike. But after 15 years, has it boosted the underlying consumer businesses? The answer is plainly no.

2)  Native. This is not merely deception, but a conspiracy of deception. Whether the “content” is good or bad is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it can win engagement only if it camouflages itself as editorial matter. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. It also doesn't scale. So the best it will ever do -- while it steadily, inexorably barters away the dearly won trust of audiences to media brands -- is a labor-intensive, low-margin adjunct source of revenue. It's like turning tricks to help make ends meet….but still not covering the light bill.

3)  The Duopoly. Facebook and Google are taking all the money out of the system. They are simply too big, and increasingly too dominant both vertically and horizontally. Simply on economic-power terms, they need to be broken up, like Standard Oil of Ohio and the old AT&T. But their very technology also has unleashed dark forces -- among them fake news, filter bubbles, privacy invasion and phishing on a mass scale. Once again, they deliver priceless benefits for free. But it is a deal with the devil.

Yeah, I know that's a bit of a cliché. Oh, well. I'm off the clock.

37 comments about "Much Adieu About Nothing".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, May 22, 2017 at 8:16 a.m.

    Sorry to see you go, Bob. While, I didn't always agree with what you had to say, I enjoyed your style and the choice of many subjects for put downs----subjects that others feared to touch. Good luck in your next ventures.

  2. Jon Sinton from Progressive Agenda, May 22, 2017 at 9:32 a.m.

    This is, as Daffy Duck so eloquently put it, a revoltin' development. Yours has been the voice of reason. You have been the courtier who is brave (or dumb) enough to tell the emperor he is wearing no clothes. You...yeah, never mind, you get it, and I'm not on the clock. Suffice to say to you never failed to entertain and provide insight. FWIW, I agree with you and each of these warnings and wonder who will shine this light now. No one, I fear, with the integrity and humor you have brought us each week. Enjoy your family, Bob. 

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, May 22, 2017 at 10:33 a.m.

    William Demerest at the end of The Life of Riley ?

  4. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting, May 22, 2017 at 9:44 a.m.

    Is 'shocked' and 'saddened' too cliched? Tough beans, if it is. Your col's have been a weekly highlight in my required industry reading, not just during your 4 years at MediaPost well preceding that too. You've produced some of the smartest, most insightful (and amusing) commentary on the industry regularly. Your departure: Sad.

  5. Gene Kinsella from ROK Media, Inc., May 22, 2017 at 10:42 a.m.

    Ditto!  I have shared many of your ascerbic assessments, had a great laugh at some, and will miss your perspective on topics of the day, not only as they relate to the advertising business, but life writ large.  Thank you!

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 22, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.

    Dear Bob,

    Achhhhh !!!! You are the bright star (and Barbara Lippert) of MediaPost. Please let us know where you land via MP so we can fill our needed sanity. Cassandras, who can express themselves to succinctly and distinctively need a great podium. The best to you each morning and Best to read it everyday (2 borrowed axioms).

  7. Steve Schildwachter from BrightStar Care, May 22, 2017 at 10:52 a.m.

    Bob, we'll miss you, and such lines as: "It's like an etymologist dying of bee stings."  (Although I think you might have meant "entomologist", somehow etymologist is just as funny.)  Totally agree with your list of three big threats.  Buena suerte.

  8. Rob Donner from AudienceXpress replied, May 22, 2017 at 11:36 a.m.

    You know, I was going to point out the irony of him using etymologist instead of entomologist, only mere lines before thanking his copy editors for saving him many times.  But you're right, it might be funnier this way.  Either way, it's a sad day when one of the great guardians leaves the tower, and I'm going to miss this column.  

  9. Bo Sacks from Precision Media Group, May 22, 2017 at 11:59 a.m.

    Bon Voyage Bob. I’ll miss your rants as they usually parallel my own observations. Our media is in a mess with no obvious way back to sanity. Greed is a horrible master, and our industry is rife with denial. My fantasy (unwritten) book “The Truth About Digital Lies” is still under development and the plot changes every day. There are more villains than heroes and the victim seems be all of us. 
    Bosacks
    -30

  10. Dan Greenberg from Impossible Software, GmbH, May 22, 2017 at 1:01 p.m.

    Sorry to see you go, Bob.  MediaPost has many columnists whom I read occasionally, but only one that I read (or read) consistently.  I will miss your column without doubt.

    [By the way - no - I am not the guy from Sharethrough.]

  11. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 22, 2017 at 1:29 p.m.

    I still look at my copy of your Chaos Scenario book. It's amazingly accurate and sad at the same time. Best wishes. 

  12. Jeff Sawyer from GH, May 22, 2017 at 2:20 p.m.

    All of my literary heroes are falling away,
    I feel so old, so old today.

    PS. You kids get out of my yard. 

  13. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, May 22, 2017 at 2:42 p.m.

    I’m crushed, Bob, and wonder who will add to my days the witty wisdom with which you’ve said so many things that needed to be said but which it seemed no one else was saying. Your perspective on aspects of our industry which often seem to be going awry as well as the general chaos of planet America has been, for me, deeply satisfying and much admired. Best wishes wherever you go. You’ll be very much missed.

  14. Paul Collins from DigitalFish Inc., May 22, 2017 at 2:43 p.m.

    Bob, thank you for so many years of insight and irreverence and much more. I remember noting your unique voice in the pages of Ad Age back in the 80s. I've always expected, and found, something true in your words. Thank you for that. Enjoy your time off the clock!

  15. Bryan Melmed from Exponential, May 22, 2017 at 2:45 p.m.

    Bob, so sad to see you go -- one of the few sane voices around here. Can't tell you how many times I've forwarded on your column, to the wide-eyed and disbelieving and everyone in between. You'll be missed.

  16. Diana LaGattuta from Halestorm Marketing, May 22, 2017 at 2:50 p.m.

    What a shame.  This is my favorite column and in my opinion the best writing in our industry.  

  17. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, May 22, 2017 at 2:54 p.m.

    Joe:
    Who is going to write the real story behind this major loss to Media Post??

  18. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, May 22, 2017 at 3:03 p.m.

    Oh, no, say it isn't so!  As you may be aware, I've been a fan of yours for a long, long time. You and Barbara Lippert always remind me why I loved working in advertising all those years: funny, perceptive and optimistically cynical (or cynically optimistic) people who made most of those long days fun and stimulating.

    As with the commenters above, you and your voice will be greatly missed. Bon voyage, bonne chance mon ami!

  19. Brent Walker from Soundscapes, May 22, 2017 at 3:19 p.m.

    Bob. Oh Bob. Will you still do On the Media? Please do not leave us Bobless. We all deeply enjoy your insights, your humor, and your deeply-honed sarcasm. It's the best.

    Thanks for giving the stinkeye to those who needed it, then turning around and telling us about it. You are a rare journalist. 

    Now I'm going to google your name to see where else you like to hang out.


  20. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), May 22, 2017 at 3:21 p.m.

    "I'm a writer Ray, it's what I do." 

  21. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, May 22, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    While I HATE learning this news...that was one princely finale. Bravo. And an exit giving us ALL some very serious food for thought. Thank you.

  22. Roxanne Darling from Bare Feet Studios LLC, May 22, 2017 at 4:07 p.m.

    Wow - I too will miss you and your voice, Bob. It's not a coincidence, but I couldn't leave a comment until I subscribed to one of Media Post's Promotional Email Newsletters - never mind that I was already subscribed to 10 (TEN) of Media Post's other email newsletters, each of which is FILLED with advertisements!

    I follow you on Twitter, etc. and wish you the best! They cancel you at their own peril...

  23. Roxanne Darling from Bare Feet Studios LLC replied, May 22, 2017 at 8:57 p.m.

    https://twitter.com/bobosphere

  24. Lori Stevens from Digiscape Ex-pat, May 22, 2017 at 4:35 p.m.

    Boo! Sorry to see you go. You were a refreshing Voice of Reason amidst the Kool-Aid addicts! And I love your final 3 - On Point! [Amen.]

    As one of my 3 MP "Must-Read" columnists; I'm now down to 2, (plus a handful of 'occasionals'.) Best of luck to you! Your perspective will be missed.

  25. Linda Moskal from WNPV Radio, May 22, 2017 at 4:41 p.m.

    Just one more small voice crying out in what will now be a true wilderness!  Don't just enjoy being off the clock ... get on your own and the masses will follow you!  

  26. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome, May 22, 2017 at 5 p.m.

    I'm going to miss you heaps!!! I loved your column so much. Thanks for all your thought-provoking contributions. Go well.

  27. heidi diamond from LIM College, May 22, 2017 at 6:17 p.m.

    Been a fan for years!  Hope to continue reading you elsewhere!!!

  28. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, May 22, 2017 at 6:52 p.m.

    I have been trying to think of some smart-ass comment but don't want to spend any more time on that effort.  I will say, you will be missed.  Not that you give a shit...

  29. Don Perman from self, May 22, 2017 at 8:03 p.m.

    Sorry to see it end. Best wishes.

  30. George Wright from Self, May 24, 2017 at 2:17 p.m.

    Thanks for the columns, Bob!  Echoing the hope that you continue with OntheMedia.  

  31. Mike Kilroy from Global Results Communications, May 26, 2017 at 6:58 p.m.

    Always enjoyed your columns, Bob.  Good fortune with all future endeavors.

  32. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, May 28, 2017 at 1:52 p.m.


    Thanks for all your great work.

  33. Stan Valinski from Multi-Media Solutions Group, May 28, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

     Is the ironic that you just served a four-year term? I also thank you for all of the enjoyable and thought provoking content  you have given us in that time. At least you made a full four years. Hope you find gratifying, interesting and  monetarily favorable pursuits.  I look forward to seeing you pop up somewhere where intelligent discourse  of our business is encouraged. 

  34. Laura Wilkinson Sinton from Vox Advisory, LLC, May 29, 2017 at 9:49 p.m.

    Our Cassandra abandons us. Who could blame you? Surface elsewhere. Please. And quickly.

  35. Ngoc T from Iowa, May 30, 2017 at 10:49 a.m.

    Smooth sailing where ever the winds take you, Bob.

  36. Tom Cotton from Progatonist LLC, May 31, 2017 at 10:26 a.m.

    OK, as long as you continue your run at On The Media I won't flip out...if you bail on THAT, I shall be lost... Best of luck, regardless, and I will really miss your columns, Bob...THANK YOU.

  37. John Grono from GAP Research, June 5, 2017 at 2:50 a.m.

    Being from Downunder, I'm pretty used to things being topsy turvy, but this has turned by weekly reading of your posts completely upside down.   You WILL be missed.

    All I can really say is 'thank you, thank you, thank you'.

    You leave us all better informed and I truly believe universally appreciated.

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