After 10 Great Years, a Farewell to the Readers of Ad Age

How I Fell in Love and Joined the Revolution

By Published on .

And so it ends, not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with a column.
Like most baby boomers, our columnist took his early cues from the extremist manifesto Mad magazine.
Like most baby boomers, our columnist took his early cues from the extremist manifesto Mad magazine.

How appropriate. In 10 years, I have written some 300 columns for Advertising Age. Coming on top of the 250-odd columns I'd written earlier for The New York Times, this decade's worth of journalistic gymnastics should have hinted to all readers what ultimately happened: I fell in love -- with advertising, marketing and media and the people who are transforming them.

If you missed the evidence, you're forgiven. Although I was to the manor born, a child of marketers in a house guested frequently by creative revolutionaries, we baby boomers were raised to be conflicted by commercialism. Taking cues from our extremist manifesto, Mad magazine (a periodical then without advertising), we ridiculed the crass vulgarism of prime-time television, excoriated celebrities who sold out with product endorsements and pitied the fast-talking neurotics on Madison Avenue.

Except we secretly envied them. Ogilvy, Bernbach, Chiat -- more recently Wieden, Goodby, Crispin -- we revered the way they could move the culture. Sure, we recognized the detritus in our commercial environment. But we also understood that many of our privileges as Americans derived from a democratic capitalist economy premised on novelty-driven growth. And advertising is its fuel -- "capitalist realist art," in sociologist Michael Schudson's famous phrase.

To a journalist, there could be no better job. My beat was the public face of capitalism -- a stewpot of economics, commerce, salesmanship, craft and art. This is why -- even as my day jobs grew more formal, managerial and complex -- I kept columnizing. I wanted to tell the stories of the people inventing our future.

Then the internet came and changed it all -- for the better. Thanks to eBay, thousands of hobbyists and local retailers can reach a national or global market, unleashing new wealth into the world. Thanks to Google and Yahoo, this Long Tail of the new economy can advertise across these markets in ways unthinkable during the era of expensively centralized TV networks and magazines. Thanks to iLife, Windows and Dell, the tools of production and distribution are available to everyone. Mass media has become the masses' media. The two IP's -- Internet Protocol and Intellectual Property -- have combined, unleashing the sloppy entrepreneurial dreams of millions who believe that the right word about the right idea in the right place at the right time can make them billions ... or at least make them famous.

No greater challenge or opportunity has ever faced incumbent marketers and the media and advertising people who serve them. Once, they needed only know how to beguile a captive congregation. Today, they have to "earn their audience." That's a phrase I heard just last week, from Norm Bilow and Vinny Warren, two rebels who recently left DDB to form their own Chicago agency, cheekily named Escape Pod. Yes, there's a new revolution going on, only this time, it's not just for creatives. It's for creatives and strategists and media planners and engineers and salespeople. Is it any wonder I fell in love with them and wanted to join their revolution?

Alas, taking the helm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau means giving up my Ad Age column. But some things won't change. I might even take my own writing onto our website, I confess to reasons as selfish as they are pragmatic. I love advertising, marketing and media -- and the people who are transforming them. Telling their stories is what I do.

~ ~ ~
Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, recently took over as president-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
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