Not Quite Correct, Mr. Goodby

Why He and Bob Garfield Are Both Wrong

By Published on .

Ana Andjelic
Ana Andjelic
This is a reprint of a blog post at "I [love] marketing."

I am not sure why I am even writing about this. Probably because it caught my eye the other day without even knowing what's exactly about. And now I have to follow through. Truth is, these kind of debates bore me to death. Bob Garfield's "The Chaos Scenario" book certainly feels like talking about the future while looking at the rear mirror, and Jeff Goodby himself does not seem terribly far from it, too.

Simply put, Goodby seems to think that all we need is better advertising. Yes, times are challenging, and our response is to try harder to do what we are already doing. If we were just a bit more creative, or had a tad better copy, or be slightly more funny, then "advertising could morph itself into something people actually want to experience and seek out".

Good luck with that.

The question here is not one of advertising at all. And framing complexity and uncertainty of the current media environment as an advertising question, can only limit the range of possible solutions. If Goodby asked: how do I inspire people to buy more of my clients' products in the current complex media environment (or, better yet, how to become more relevant in consumers' lives), then he may have come to a range of possible solutions, some of which may have been quite interesting, and all of which could have been actually expected to increase sales and/or promote the client's brand.

But no, let's talk AGAIN about advertising.

Goodby wants a more efficient old system. And he is hardly the only one. This kind of path-dependency in thinking is known both in studies of decision-making and in real life. Thinking that agencies' can't change because "there's simply too much money and corporate energy devoted to this cause for those budgets, and hopes, to disappear overnight." Hm, something's not going to fail because there is too much invested in it? Bigger systems collapsed for less: financial system and Soviet Union come to my mind.

People tend to cling to what they know and with what they are comfortable; they are averse to loss and tend to repeat things that worked for them in the past. This form of irrationality is called Sunk Cost and it's super-interesting.

Worse yet, they think that if they continue doing what they were already doing, just in a better, faster, more efficient way, the current obstacles will be solved. Wrong. Internet may never make money. That is, it will never make that kind of money that advertising people think would make them want to do business on the Internet. Waiting for the internet to start making money (even if the ways that Goodby hopefully suggests, "a combination of micropayment entry fees and advertising that people like") does not seem like a good strategy. Simply, it's applying one set of expectations to the system in which those expectations don't make any sense.

Social, technical, and economic organization of the web does not -- and will not ever -- support the media value chain in which someone makes money off advertising at the end as it was the case in the past. No matter how much "better" that advertising becomes. This situation does not mean that we are dealing with chaos (that's just silly). We are simply dealing with a complex system that sustains multiple coexisting orders of worth. Sometimes, what worked in the past will not work in the future. And sometimes it will.

The fact is that no one can predict which of these two possibilities will be the case. This is not a riddle; it's just a situation that requires a crucial understanding that now, it's not the challenge that can be classified under "advertising."

What is certain is the following: keeping the debate always within the same boundaries will not ever provide a new solution. Asking the same question will not give a new answer.

This whole Goodby analysis reminds me of Henry Ford's "faster horses". He would have never invented a car if the only business he was in was breeding faster horses. Or, in the Sunk Cost terms, sometimes one just needs to cut losses and start thinking anew.

Ana Andjelic is a freelance strategist at Barbarian Group and doing her Ph.D. dissertation on digital branding. You can follower her thoughts at I [love] marketing.
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