Stating the Obvious

Why ad conferences fall back on the plain and simple

A young, newly married friend excitedly announced to me that she and her hubby had just bought a dog, a chocolate Labrador. I waited for the inevitable. It took maybe 60 seconds.

“It’s just like being a parent!” she exclaimed, eyes wide with delight.

Bingo. Of all the patently ridiculous urban utterances, this one is my favorite, invariably blurted out by someone who doesn’t have kids.

Naturally, I pounced. Does the dog do his homework on tiny pieces of paper, crumple it up, put it in his backpack and forget it’s in there? Does the dog ruin his cell phone because he hops into the jacuzzi and forgets he has it in his pocket? Does the dog run out of the house and leave the front door wide open? Does the dog insist that humans don’t understand him and he’s happy only with other dogs? Does he come home with his eyebrow pierced and his foreleg tattooed?

Please. The next person who tells me owning a pet is like raising a child will be chained in the backyard all day, walked around the neighborhood on a leash and whacked on the hindquarters with a newspaper until they wise up.

How did we get so dumb? An inability to see the obvious reaches deep into our culture, woven into the fabric of our lives. From pundits and the media we get pronouncements of the blindingly apparent made to seem that they’re the Ten Commandments, fresh off the mountain: “The world is dangerous.” “Our government isn’t always entirely honest about what it tells us.” “Martha Stewart maybe likes money a little too much.” “Men and women think differently.” “There’s a political agenda behind Hillary Clinton’s book tour.”

Forget The Da Vinci Code. This summer’s biggest mystery is, Who killed common sense?

And, of course, as the society goes, so goes advertising. At every one of three big industry conferences in the past two months, the theme could have been, “Belaboring the Obvious.”

At the 4A’s management conference in New Orleans, it was, “We can’t make things better if all we do is complain.” Good advice—but it’s also just common sense.

At the AAF’s conference in Los Angeles, it was, “Entertainment marketing is a huge opportunity, but the biggest problem is that Hollywood and advertising hate each other’s guts.” I’m shocked. Shocked and appalled.

And at last week’s 4A’s new-business seminar in New York, it was, “Agencies make dumb mistakes in reviews.” Who knew?

There’s a reason why we have to be reminded about things we should know instinctively, why we can’t even remember what the basics are, let alone get back to them. Advertising, mirroring the culture, can’t focus anymore. Can’t concentrate.

Advertising has ADD.

That’s the real reason everything is moving so much faster these days. Why creatives create too fast (which is why we get “Catfight” instead of “1984”). Why buyers buy too fast (which is why Mel Karmazin is rich and you’re not). Why CEOs acquire too fast (which is why WPP, or anybody for that matter, would want Cordiant).

We’re all overcompensating.

Advertising doesn’t need to reinvent itself. It needs Ritalin. A little blue pill to get it through the day. And a purple one for indigestion.

We need a shrink in every shop. Someone who can get us all to slow down and make sure we spell the agency president’s name right on the RFP.

Which reminds me: I have to leave the column early today. I have to take my cat in for counseling. She has self-esteem issues.