Tuesday, March 28, 2017

life after adtech

Theodore ‘Ted’ Sturgeon is widely acclaimed as one the greats in science fiction writing.
He wrote a number of novels, was an early scriptwriter on the promising TV series Star Trek in the 50s and 60s and also one of the foremost critics in the sci-fi genre, also penning over 400 reviews before his passing in 1985.

After many years of batting back attacks on the science fiction genre from critics, he had a moment of insight.

This insight became known as Sturgeon’s Revelation, later – and somewhat less dramatically – shortened to Sturgeon’s Law.

Speaking at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in September 1953, Sturgeon responded to ‘proper’ literary critics who claimed that 'ninety percent of science fiction is crap'.

Ted agreed. Ninety percent of science fiction is indeed crap.

But, he argued, to say ninety percent of science fiction is crap is meaningless, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other art forms.

Sturgeon’s Law therefore states that ninety percent of everything - all film, literature, products, culture and advertising - is crap.

Less often reported is Ted’s proposed solution to the problem.

If we agree that ninety percent of everything is crap, then what’s important is to study, learn from and promote the ten percent that isn’t crap.

[Maybe 90% is generous, it’s more likely closer to 99% but you get the idea.]

In advertising there seems to be a period when any new approach, new platforms or technology comes along that – for a time - seems to somehow be viewed as exempt from this law.

Social media marketing, content marketing, AI, VR, chatbots, programmatic delivery and other adtech all arrived in their time, were heralded as the next big thing, then gradually landed in a ditch of disappointment or - as in adtech’s case - murky nefariousness.

But if we had remembered Sturgeon’s law perhaps we could have been more critical of practices and theories from the outset and avoided a lot of unpleasantness.

The shortcomings of adtech have now been fully revealed.

[As another aside, it is peculiar that in this age when information is supposed to disseminate at warp speed, mainstream media has only just caught up with what many of us have been discussing for about 4 or 5 years.]

Somehow we have to shift focus and look for the 1%.

Looking for the good AND THEN CRITICISE THAT.

Where is the good practice, how do we build on that or make that better? – and if there is none then how do we create some?

As an industry we’ve been duped and been cheated, but now we have had our eyes opened.

Will we get fooled again?

Probably, It’s not as if we are strangers to pluralistic ignorance in this business.

Anyone who has sat through campaign or brand tracking presentations by supposedly reputable research companies and thought ‘am I the only one in this room who thinks this is bullshit?’ please raise your hand now.

I thought so. Just about everyone. But we never raised our hand at the time.

The only way to break out of these cycles is to speak up, ask questions, be sceptical and ask for evidence.

A decent rule of thumb would be to DEMAND that the more extraordinary the claim of any technology platform or gizmo, the stronger the evidence must be to support that claim.

This is not a Luddite rant. Programmatic, automation and advertising technology is inevitable. Very soon all media will be distributed in this way.

Crapness, however, is not inevitable.

Bill Drummond once made this point.

The technology always comes first.

Then creative people mess with it and create something new and unexpected.

Artists never invented oil paint, or the movie camera but they saw the opportunity the technology gave for creativity.

The technicians and engineers have had their turn, and the results were less than optimal.

Factor in blind-sided publishers, winner-takes-all multinationals being allowed to mark their own homework, the deluge of shitty content and open season for fraudsters and criminals and we’ve got a big mess to clean up.

At least 90% of the whole adtech shooting match was total crap. But it’s out in the open and we have to move on.

And 90% of everything will always be shit, but it’s only a relentless, sceptical, demand for quality and creativity that points the way forward.

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