Curmudgeons, black hat thinkers, devil’s advocates, and people who say “but” infect most organizations and systems. They have a role in “keeping things honest” and calling out obvious bull****, and contribute little or nothing to driving progress. Bob Hoffman was an ad guy who has a blog called “Ad Contrarian,” and its content meets the expectation of its name: caustic, surly and bad-tempered rants on the state of the ad business, sometimes funny, though for the most part it feels like walking through thigh deep mud.

Business Insider ran a piece on Bob’s speech to the Shift 2016 conference in London, he said that there are three major misconceptions clouding the industry: “All of these delusions have one thing in common: they take a little bit of truth and then they distort it and they exaggerate it and they torture it to the point at which it does our marketers more harm than good.”

Here goes Bob: “The first mistake advertisers make is thinking that other people actually care about their brands. Creating a strong brand should be every marketer’s primary objective and the highest role of advertising is to create a strong brand. But our industry has taken these truths and twisted them into silly fantasies. There’s a widespread belief in our business that consumers are in love with brands. That consumers want to have brand experiences and brand relationships and be personally engaged with brands and read branded story telling.”

One consequence of “all this baloney,” says Business Insider, is that the industry has spent almost 10 years and “billions of dollars exhorting people to join the conversation of our brands.” But it’s still unclear what that conversation is.

Hoffman continues: “People have shaky jobs and unstable families, they have illnesses, they have debts, they have washing machines that don’t work, they have funny things growing on their backs, they have kids that are unhappy, they have a lot of things to care deeply about. It’s very unwise to believe that they care deeply about our batteries, our wet wipes and our chicken strips.”

In the words of the famous Tui beer campaign, “Yeah Right, Bob.” The radically optimistic reality check is that people have dreams, hopes and aspirations. They strive for magic moments in life amidst the dross and struggle, believe in a better future, and ways to make life more valuable, easier, and enjoyable. Products and brands have a vitally important role in helping people navigate their daily lives, bringing ongoing moments of convenience, utility and joy. Brands are not the be-all and end-all of life, but they sure make it flow, no matter how back-to-the-woods you might be.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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