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Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Is Going On?

Last week, I put up a post entitled “It’s All So Fragile”, a decidedly downbeat commentary from two struggling ad agency principals. I did not expect much in the way of immediate readership or response as several holidays were upon us that are celebrated all over the world. When I went to check my e-mail, I was very surprised to see all kinds of comments from readers in several countries. A few scolded me for a less than optimistic report posted in the heart of their Christmas season. Some said it was true and a few said they knew who my anonymous agency people were (they were wrong). More telling were the comments of a number of readers who essentially said and I paraphrase--Okay, I see the same thing. What is going on?

I am often criticized for many things but one is that I often take a long view on many issues. So, when I look at the changes taking place in both advertising and conventional media, I do not get too upset. To me, what is going on is NORMAL.

Go back to the founding of our republic. When we broke from Britain and adopted our Constitution in 1789, George Washington became our first president. He presided over a nation that was preindustrial in nature--human muscle ably assisted by some animals was about as techie as we got. Some 90% of the people were involved in agriculture.

A few decades later, the Industrial Revolution began to raise its head. Steam engines started to pop up and then came the telegraph and railroads. Electricity and oil motors came on the scene and people had more mobility, warmth, and light. Finally, we emerged in to the third industrial era which I will call the computer age.

Every time the technological innovation came along in a big way, existing economic and social life became quite destabilized. That is simply what we are going through now. The pattern keeps repeating itself. Historically, each took 30-50 years to effect sweeping change. Remember that electricity was available in many American and European homes in the late 19th century but until the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) changed things, much of rural southern America did not have power at the flip of a switch.

So, is it different this time as many say? I would only say that it is different in the sense that the RATE OF CHANGE is much faster. Some 15 years ago, much of the world did not have access to a telephone. Today, mobile phones are found even in remote and primitive areas and not only provide calling but also access to video and the world wide web.

Sweeping changes in technology are disruptive. They do cause pain for people of a certain age who want to coast to retirement and to those whose jobs will become obsolete or marginalized in importance. Try to accentuate the positive. Think about the gains in communication and medicine and travel. Branding will not get easier given the enormous fragmentation of media but we will be able to see what works and what does not much more clearly than ever.
Today remains the most exciting time ever to work in advertising, marketing, or the media. You cannot turn back the clock. To a friend who recently described the digital world as the enemy, I can only conjure up the philosophy of the great Don Michael Corleone-- “Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer.”

To all who read the blog (123 countries represented this year) may I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com or add a comment on the blog.

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