Unlike organized religion, which has always been about media (the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, Tao-Te-Ching, etc.), I've always viewed faith as a largely personal experience, and I doubt any two people hold the exact same beliefs about anything, even within the same religious sect. Except for advertising, maybe.
Okay, so advertising's not a religion - not a formal one, anyway - but the zealots on Madison Avenue have always used a kind of religious fervor to reinforce the belief that advertising actually works. And it's largely been based on a sense of faith. Sure, there's research that can prove it. A good share of the content in this magazine is written about attempts to do just that. But if you ask me, much of it is no better than the kind of science certain theologians have used over the years in an attempt to prove the existence of God. You either believe it, or you don't.
Lately, it's gotten a lot harder for some people to believe that advertising works. Or, I should say, that it works as well as it once did, and that it will continue to work at all in the not-too-distant future. I confess, I am one of them. My loss of faith isn't based on anything tangible. In fact, after a quarter century of covering the advertising business, I've been exposed to virtually every conceivable piece of scientific evidence proving its effectiveness. Much of it seems sound, has the right methodology, the correct math, the proper samples. Research is one of the things Madison Avenue does best. My loss of faith has nothing to do with scientific fact; it is simply something I believe. Like the people I spoke to for this month's cover story, I just don't believe advertising - by and large - is working very well.
Media has become too plentiful, too cluttered, and too much in the consumer's control to believe that people are simply going to sit passively and be exposed to an incessant barrage of what most of us still call "commercials," but what Red Ball Tiger's Greg Wilson more aptly terms "interruptions." The challenge for Madison Avenue, of course, is to figure out how to transition advertising from being an intrusion, to something people actually want to be involved with. When we achieve that, says Wilson in this month's cover story, everyone wins: Consumers get ad messages they want to see; advertisers get engaged consumers; agencies are compensated for delivering them.
It's an easy concept to understand, but making it a reality is going to require some new ways of thinking about media and some new media thinkers. Wilson is one of these new "agents" of advertising change. Like others profiled in this month's issue, he's beginning to question the fundamentals of Madison Avenue's gospel. That's not to say the ad industry is entirely stuck in some kind of ideological fundamentalism. There's also a whole new generation of fresh thinkers that are bringing a new spiritual energy to the media business. A few are profiled in this month's issue as representatives of media's new DNA.
Lastly, I'd like to explain a little background about our cover design this month. It's a different look than what we've been producing since we relaunched media in March. That's on purpose, and it reflects the severity of the story we're addressing, which isn't just about dramatic changes in business models, but some real soul-searching. Given its almost theological nature, we're paying homage to one of the most famous magazine cover designs ever, Time magazine's 1966 "Is God Dead?"