In the nation’s capital, where people talk openly about taking anti-anxiety meds and visiting their therapists following the dreadful Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Advertising Week DC, which ended last Friday, appeared on the horizon like a welcome invitation to escape.
The event is a smaller version of the American Advertising Federation’s annual confab in New York. This year’s agenda promised a deep dive into “becoming the brand authentic.” Pause here to pop some Zoloft or Xanax before reading on.
First, we learned how the lack of truth, trust and transparency in our political discourse is poisoning every aspect of advertising, public relations, brand management, marketing, technology and media.
Brands are scared.
The morning’s keynote speaker David Sable, CEO of Y&R, even opened with a dire warning: “Fake news isn’t going away.” Only “education and accountability will become essential” to brands trying to navigate a sociopolitical minefield filled with ever more rancorous and polarizing conversations.
Thanks. But what should we do about fake news?
“Ditch the echo chamber and embrace the facts,” Sable told the grown-ups in the room. Great, but it’s the kids like Facebook and Twitter that need to cooperate if consumers and citizens stand a chance of sorting out fact from fiction.
Facebook’s “war room,” set up to fight election interference, stands no chance against the insidious masters of global propaganda. It’s far better to shut the social-media platform down until the mid-term elections are over. That would stop the echo chamber.
After spanking the kids, Sable turned to the adults.
“The Gray Lady” earned his particular scorn for publishing an anonymous opinion editorial by a senior official in the Trump administration who called the president amoral by acting in a manner harmful to the republic. Sable doesn’t think the age of fake news can tolerate anonymous sources.
Not even the media can save us.
By now, many were scanning the agenda, desperate for some real distraction. Madison Avenue produced fun, creative ads, even if politics was involved. Remember “Morning in America,” when the Tuesday Team (Hal Riney and Phil Dusenberry et. al.) made Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign look like one of those sappy, happy Folger’s coffee commercials?
Puffery. That’s the ticket. Which speaker is good at inflating the attributes of products beyond what they are capable of delivering?
With a sigh of relief, eyes fixated on Stanley Hainsworth, founder-Chief Creative Officer of Seattle-based agency Tether.
He talked of how good creative work must be “handcrafted, artistic, sophisticated, human and enduring” to soothe the troubled soul. Conversation about the need for passion to improve brands, and more passion to improve the world worked like a much-needed balm.
All went well until Colin Kaepernick’s chiseled features flooded the screen, and politics again reared its ugly head. Hainsworth once worked for Nike, so the Kaepernick ad is a natural for his talk titled: “What is your brand promise worth?”
It could have been such a nice speech. If only he hadn’t mentioned that “Davos in the Desert” investment conference.
Why remind us of the Saudi Prince MBS, the one the pundits sarcastically dubbed “Mr. Bone Saw?” His brand, built on the promise of reforming the Kingdom, just took a deep nose dive after those grisly news stories surfaced about how dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw inside a Saudi consulate.
Truthfully, there was no escape from the current political chaos.
The key takeaway from #ADWKDC can be found in Sable’s sobering reflections. Education and accountability are essential to helping us navigate beyond the political thicket of muck we are mired in.