Believe it or not, up until Bill Bernbach introduced the world at large to a small bug of an automobile in the 1960s, advertising was considered an essentially quantifiable craft, even if it was quantifiable -- at least according to John Wanamaker -- only 50 percent of the time. Bernbach's influence not only sparked a creative revolution, but also precipitated a concomitant decline in agency resources devoted to research. The emergence of TV as the dominant medium over print likely had a lot to do with the ascent of creative as the dominant new agency service, and just as likely a lot to do with the ubiquitous 15 percent agency commission fee that all but guaranteed exorbitant agency profits.
Fade out and fade in: We now have the exact opposite situation in the transition from demographics to psychographics as the dominant lingua franca in a widely fragmented and all but commission-free media landscape. The rapid-growth agencies of the late 1990s and early 21st century are those attuned more or less exclusively to media rather than creative, and driven largely by the Wall Street culture embodied in the primary Wall Street tool - the electronic spreadsheet.
Now it may well be that our current obsession with Phase II language -- with gathering and assessing obscene amounts of information -- may well reflect the simple fact that we now have the sudden technological ability to gather and assess obscene amounts of data. It's possible that we just haven't come to grips with our own technology-driven power yet, given the basic imperative of technology to accelerate itself and everything around it. However, it's also possible that we never will.
So despite an occasional burst of creative talent here and there, we are still very much ensconced in Phase II language with diminishing hope of emerging from our self-imposed creative exile as time marches on. The longer we linger in the addiction-induced inertia of Phase II language, the stronger that inertia becomes and the less likely we are to find a way out, to recover our sense of balance and priorities en route. The obsessive-compulsive hunt for better ways to deliver the message will eventually leave us with nothing to say.
This is not to vilify the media mavens in our midst. This is merely my assertion that our obsessions with our own media technologies (to the near exclusion of quality creative) all but guarantee diminished return on investment (DROI). Simply stated: Advertising performance will continue to decline as bandwidth and subsequent media tonnage increase.
Our industry response thus far to the phenomenon of DROI has been entirely predictable, as are all obsessive-compulsive and addictive behaviors: more of the same -- faster, smarter, better.
But the only real offset to the increased bandwidth-to-DROI equation is a re-emergence of quality creative and its eventual integration with technology-driven research, the subject of next week's column about Phase III language: synthesis.
Addicted to Einstein's Corner? Find your next fix at Jeff Einstein's weblog -- Einstein's Corner -- at http://einsteinscorner.com.