It's from the NewYorker article about Google, "Searching for Trouble", that I read a couple of weeks ago, but never gotten around to writing something about it. The author is Ken Auletta, and there is something touching that this writer, who built his fame around following shenanigans of the old media moguls (his book from that period, "The Highwaymen", is notorious) now has to deal with the challenges of understanding of the whole new media world. All within a single career.
Anyway. The above sentence ends the paragraph where the author talks about the stark contrast between the old and new ad models:
"Most American media - television, radio, newspapers, magazines - depend for their existence on a long-entrenched advertising model. That model, at which Karmazin excelled, depended on salesmanship, emotion, and mystery. ... "I was selling twenty-five billion dollars' worth of advertising." Karmazin recalled. "Did I want someone to know what worked and what didn't? Karmazin looked at his Google hosts and proclaimed, only half in jest, "You're fucking with the magic!"
Now, while certainly funny, his outcry is not as outdated as we'd like to think. Even among digital marketing agencies and its creative directors, there's still a lot of belief in creating "magic". This magic, true, may not be measurable, but is thought to be attractive both to advertisers and audiences alike precisely because the aura of its mystery.
In Karmazin's words, this would be: "I have no idea if it's going to work. You pay your money, you take your chances." Utterly appealing.
On a recent industry event, I heard one digital CD say that "you got to make things that people are going to search for." So, I guess the game is the same, it just in a different medium. Except, the logic "if you build it, they will come" (or search for it, in this instance) doesn't really make much sense in digital. You can build as much as you want. They'll ignore it. To make something searchable - and findable - you got to optimize it, test it a bit, and then distribute it in such a dispersed way that it increases chances that people will stumble upon it. Nothing magical there, in fact.
There's also another sort of magic that's still alive and well and right in the middle of agency-client relationship. Karmazin put it like this: "I want a salesperson in the process, taking that buyer for drinks, getting an order you shouldn't have gotten. You don't want to have people know what works. When you know what works or not, you tend to change less money than when you have this aura and you are selling this mystique."
And here I thought that our job is to help clients solve their problems in an accountable and transparent manner. To tell them the inconvenient truth and to show them the tough love. But at the same time, to really, truly, help them by bringing tangible and measurable results. It should also be noted that best digital agencies employ a bunch of nerds and geeks who are incredibly passionate about solving problems but whose social skills are, dubious, to say the least. Or, rather - they are filled with people who don't exactly see the point of creating any "aura" around themselves or their work. And, besides, going for a drink with a 20+ year older client on a weekend night only for the sake of selling them "mystique" sounds like a horrible way to spend time.
But more worrisome than how people spend their weekends, is forging a personal relationship where a purely business one makes more sense (just think Richard Fuld, started to love his bank too much, made some bad decisions). A lot of clients stay with an agency not because it's the best choice, but because they have a "relationship". Lame advertising campaigns happen because people got to like each other over drinks; or because the agency convinced the client that their solution is the best. Proof for it stays at the bottom of the drink.
Google here did not mark only the end of one advertising model and introduction of a new one; it actually mostly made visible a whole new set of relationships. A set of relationships that becomes apparent when everything else is made transparent.Magic is an incredibly pretty thing to believe in. Only, it's not real.