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Nap Time

  • August 19, 2002, 12:00 AM EDT
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I was kicking back over pommes frites and Rolling Rock at Cafe des Artistes, trying to relax, and then I ruined everything by going to the restroom.

Once there, I was confronted by a framed condom ad with two photo graphs. One showed a closed hotel-room door with a "Do not disturb" sign on the handle. The other, a fitting room with swinging doors upon which had been thrown, ahem, a female undergarment.

The point, the copy stressed, was that you'd have better sex with these condoms—fitting-room love, not the staid old hotel-room tryst.

This was meant to inspire me. Put a gleam in my eye. A spring in my step. And other things. But all it did was depress me. Took all the life out of me. A weird reaction, I thought, and then I realized what it was.

I'm too tired to have sex.

And so is everybody else. In fact, the whole country is exhausted. Day traders, ad holding-company CEOs, Rosie magazine reps. All of us.

In the last year, we've experienced trauma, terror, recession, stock-market plunges, jaw-dropping corporate crimes. Plus, we're buffeted by more of everything in the Clutter Culture.

It's just become too much. Too much of everything, and not enough recovery time. It's like we're all running a sociocultural marathon, and just when we see the finish line, they move it back another 26.2 miles.

Michael Eisner doesn't even have the energy to fight over whether or not his son's elementary-school principal should be on the Disney board. Now that's fatigue.

Those of you who toil within the great American business machine—and those of us who observe it—know all about this. But I don't know that we've really confronted it yet: The Exhaustion Effect.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it's even showing up in ad reviews.

When a pharmaceutical firm recently went to four holding companies and asked them to choose which agencies should pitch its account, the reason given was that the company didn't want to be inundated by credentials. But I bet there was a hidden agenda: I figure they were just too tired to deal with it.

Even the buzz in the ad community about Omnicom and Interpublic's Wall Street odysseys was so muted as to be almost background noise. Not long ago, such travails would have sparked an almost frightening schadenfreude among agency executives.

Now, they can barely muster a sardonic smirk.

The truly worrisome aspect of all this is the effect on consumers. They're inundated by advertising, and they barely protest anymore. We have a nation of zombies out there, and if you think TiVo was a challenge, wait until you have to sell this lot anything.

I shudder to think of the inevit able industry reaction. Studies on the Exhaustion Effect. Startups that specialize in reaching the elusive, all-important "exhausted cohort." Compensation schemes based on return-on-exhaustion. Even a renewed raison d'être for account planners.

Oh, no. We have to stop this now.

I think the whole country needs to take the rest of the summer off. In fact, don't come back until Sept. 12.