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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Schopenhauer and Your Sandbox

A well known German philosopher was Arthur Schopenhauer. He lived from 1788-1860. Reading him is difficult as I found some of his theories loopy or impossible to penetrate. He was also deep into pessimism which flies in the face of my natural upbeat sense of life. Today, he is probably best known for contributions to psychology and even the arts rather than for his philosophical ramblings.

I can best describe my feelings toward him by stealing William F. Buckley's description of someone else--he was "a huge collection of valuable stones, irregularly set, perhaps; eccentrically cut, yes; but giving out shafts of brilliant light."

The most brilliant quotation from Schopenhauer in my mind is as follows:

"All truth passes through three stages:

First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is vehemently denied.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident"

Does the above remind you of something?

Nothing so succinctly sums up what is happening in the communications business today as Schopenhauer's quotation. The majority of people whom I speak with and correspond with regularly are still largely in denial about what is very definitely taking place.

Not long ago, I spoke to a TV station sales team about the impact that Local People Meters (LPM) would have in their market when they came on stream in the intermediate future. The group was attentive, the questions were really good, and I felt a real sense of accomplishment. As I closed, the sales manager stood up and said (I paraphrase) : "We appreciate Don's insights on the future impact of LPM. But, remember, we are a unique station and while others in the market will be affected, our news will be stronger than ever and we will continue to be #1 across the board." This brought some smiles, a few claps, and visible relief especially among some of the younger sales people. The general manager, who sat in, thanked me and then asked if he could drive me to the airport. I was flattered and immediately said yes.

Once we were alone in the car, the G.M. exploded. "Bob is a terrific sales guy but he thinks it is 1980. I brought you in to wake the team up and you did a fine job. But, he refuses to leave his carefully guarded sandbox and accept the inevitable."

We all know lots of people like Bob (not his real name). They find it impossible to admit what is going on. I fully realize that it necessary to sell your product with enthusiasm and act as if nothing else can compare to it. But, increasingly, self delusion seems to be gaining ground in the communications community.

The simple truth is that the advertising model and advertising agency model is broken. And, our Humpty Dumpty world will not be pieced together again after this terrible economic climate clears. Yes, money continues to pour into national network television. Why? People do not know where else to put it. But, that cannot last much longer unless if can be proven to pay for itself. The consumer is moving toward total control and they are never, repeat never going back to passive viewing or invasive entry of conventional advertising. The smart players are forming all kinds of alliances and are trying to find new ways to reach people and to be compensated fairly for it. Many will succeed and survive and prosper. Many others, sadly, will not.

The worst thing one can do is to draw the wagons in a circle at a time such as this. I fully realize that it is human nature. But, this time it really is different. I repeat what I said in the first post for Media Realism back in early January. The only people who seem to recognize and accept what is going on are the 58-62 year olds, mostly well heeled, who will speak candidly about the changes and not fear them. Yes, their economic security insulates them from fear. But, generally, in most dynamic change, it is the old folks who wish to maintain the status quo. That is not at all the case these days.

My advice if you are young is simply stay current and keep an open mind. I have learned in life that when a door closes, several others open. It is normal to be uncomfortable with rapid change, but do not let it paralyze you. Work in your sandbox, and sell your product or service with gusto. But do not ever for a second think that the clock will roll back five or more years. It is not going to happen.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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