Ads in the Age of Hysteria

We’ve just lived through the most hysterical decade since the first doomsday lunatic discovered you could make a nice buck proclaiming the end of the world.
First, we had the Y2K bug. Everything was going to come to a grinding halt because . . . I don’t know, something about software in clock radios. People were hoarding food and water. Then there was the parade of pandemics that would kill us all — mad cow and SARS and bird flu and Ebola and swine flu. People were walking around airports in surgical masks (which, honestly, I would like to encourage).
Then there were killer bees and super-bacteria and sudden unintended acceleration and . . .
So, you’re thinking, what does all this hysteria have to do with advertising? Well, if there’s one thing we ad hacks understand, it’s the relationship between anxiety and cash flow. We’ve spent decades creating anxiety in consumers by convincing them that unless they had the latest $300 jeans they were in danger of social exile.
Now we can apply the same principles to our clients. And so we have created an ongoing hysteria-fest called The Thing That Will Change Everything. The object is to keep marketers in a constant state of anxiety about the future.
The more we can convince them that everything is changing around them — and they need us to interpret the changes — the longer we stay employed.

Consequently, every few months we come up with a new The Thing That Will Change Everything to make them nice and jumpy. We’ve had practice at this. At one time we decided videotape was going to change everything. We’d be able to shoot spots in the morning (for $50) and have them on the air that afternoon.
Then the videocassette recorder was going to change everything. People would tape their favorite shows and play them back at their convenience (sound familiar?). And worst of all, they would fast-forward through the commercials (sound familiar?). Naturally, hysteria ensued.

Then the Web was going to change everything. Brick and mortar was dead and buried. The Web was going to create “disintermediation,” which meant we would purchase all our cat food and pick-up trucks online, directly from the manufacturer.
Then there was TiVo. Nobody was going to watch TV in real time. We would time-shift all our viewing and skip the commercials. Then came YouTube. We would watch all video online, also without the annoyance of advertising.

Between TiVo, YouTube, podcasts, widgets and social media, the pundit digerati have declared traditional advertising officially dead. I Googled “advertising is dead” recently and came up with over 10,000 citations.
Well, I’m sad to inform our gloomy chatterers that digital technology has not destroyed advertising. But it has presented a new generation of dubious prophets with a cornucopia of Things That Will Change Everything.

What makes all the hysteria so silly and unwarranted is how quickly consumers digest and adjust to “the future” — and how seamlessly it arrives.

We have a vision of “the future” as a startling new thing that will confuse and disorient us. You’d think by now we’d have learned that it doesn’t work that way. Someone introduces something astonishing — a mobile phone with a touch screen that can surf the Web, shoot video, play music, take photos and make the bed — and in about three weeks we’re ready for something new.

Marketers seem resolutely attached to the belief that technological advances always lead to large-scale disruptions in consumer behavior. They have conferences about it every two weeks. (Far be it from us to disabuse them of this bankable notion.)
In fact, consumers have developed a remarkable ability to incorporate amazing technological changes into their lives with very little disruption to their purchasing habits. Just as in every generation there have been a few technological changes, like iTunes, that have changed everything.