There’s No There There

Seth Godin hit a nerve with his anti-Vegas rant. I’ve never liked Vegas much. The place seems flimsy and unreal, like a Hollywood set that will be gone tomorrow, after a big dust storm blows it up into Utah.

Las Vegas is an epicenter of a trend that is accelerating through every market and community on Earth.
A rapid increase in dissatisfaction.
If you don’t have enough money, you can fix it by gambling. It’s okay to be dissatisfied with your job and your boss and your income, because someone in Vegas has more, and they got it the easy way. I don’t think it’s an accident that we’ve got record PowerBall prizes and record PowerBall sales.
The problem with this emerging culture, aside from the fact that we’re unhappy all the time, is that it doesn’t give marketers a chance to build products for the long haul, to invest in the processes and products and even operating systems that pay off over time. The problem is that when brands fizz out so fast, it’s hard to invest in anything except building the next hot brand.
Is there an answer?
It seems to me that insulation from discontent comes from building a relationship. Relationships that make us feel counted upon, respected, trusted and valued cut through the ennui of dissatisfaction. We got ourselves into this mess by acting like smart marketers, and as marketers we can get out of it by acting like people.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I think Seth is a bit off base on his proclamation of Las Vegas as the epicenter of dissatisfaction – and to a degree he even counters his own point with his wrap up and the value of relationships to the old timers.
    There are two sides to Vegas: the side sold to tourists looking for an escape of everyday life, and the side known to those who live there – and very much based upon relationships.
    Las Vegas isn’t all about the gambling anymore – it is quickly becoming the entertainment epicenter of the USA and is also the 2nd most popular dining destination behind NYC. The selling of satisfaction is still alive and well in LV and you’d be crazy to think otherwise about a city relies upon the tourist dollar.
    I think Seth mistook the characteristics of a city in flux due to growth and transition than one of dissatisfaction. A net growth of 2000 people a month moving into the valley is clearly says more than an epicenter of dissatisfaction.
    DB – you just need a good weekend in Vegas to change your mind 🙂
    (disclaimer: I lived in Vegas for a couple years in the 90s and my parents had a company in Vegas for over 12 years before acquisitions brought them back to the Midwest)

  2. Shawn is right to rebut Seth’s exaggeration and interpretation of the issues. Plus, the notion that “we’re unhappy all the time” is really cynical and depressing. It even runs counter to the growing interests in spirituality and religion. Plus, Generation Y shows a lot of positive attitudes and behaviors.
    Perhaps Seth has missed some other symbols and analogies with Las Vegas. Is it a coincidence that most of today’s better advertising is more concerned with entertainment than building relationships? Maybe marketers need to rethink the notion of relationships. Do consumers really want a relationship with their laundry detergent or cell phone provider? It’s hard enough finding time to build relationships with family, friends and communities. We shouldn’t reserve words like “relationship” for goods and services. We want the stuff we buy to perform and even entertain us. You know, like Las Vegas.
    Does anything typed above make any sense? If not, sorry to add to your potential unhappiness.

  3. The idea that we’re unhappy all the time is neither cynical nor depressing. It’s a fact of modern life. Perhaps we don’t want to admit it, but how many people do you know who will say, “I’m really happy with everything”?
    Unfortunately, we have come to believe we’re supposed to be happy all…the…time. We live in the land of plenty, so there should be plenty for each of us. Right? Regardless of the broader world and bigger reality?
    Blame it on ever-changing opinion polls or the overpromise of marketers, but we have come to believe every second of our day is supposed to be wonderful. Green grass meeting blue skies.
    Well, wake up. That isn’t real life. It never has been and never will be, no matter how much we marketers have crammed this idea down the welcoming, wide-open baby-bird throats of our audiences. And shame on us for doing so.
    This country (I travel widely, and don’t see this other places – at least, not in such a bald-faced way) has decided we’re never supposed to be unsatisfied. Every moment is supposed to be a grand, wondrous experience full of excitement and neverending reward.
    HighJive mentionis the need to entertain ourselves. But how often do we deserve to be entertained? And is this the job of products? To act as if they are Hollywood studios (or Las Vegas strip shows)? If so, the idea of a lasting brand is dead.
    We should do nothing more than pimp products via the latest joke or production technique – in favor of promoting product benefits. If this is the future, shutter every agency right this minute. Who needs salient, intelligent marketing strategies when we can simply hire the hippest joke-teller, hottest celebrity or coolest special effects maven to wrap cool words or visuals around a logo?
    Who cares if our product message lasts longer than Warhol’s proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? We got a mention on Jay Lenno! Fantastic! High fives all around, then we’ll go to an expensive dinner and charge it to the client. (Truly, this was a measuring stick of success for a previous employer.)
    Given this view, our efforts are no longer about the product. Or its benefit. Or forming a trusting relationship with consumers. Our goal is simply to deliver the latest, popular joke or “wow factor” imagery. That’ll do.
    If we are to believe such marketing scenarios, then we should admit here and now that brands and products are irrelevant. It’s all a matter of entertaining. Slap a logo on the back end of the latest, popular bit. Once it’s turn in the spotlight has faded? We’ll just go back and write another “hit song”.
    Only, history teaches there is no formula for doing such. Which means our new busines model can be summed up this way: “Cross your fingers and good luck.” Each sale will depend upon how cool this week’s 30-second effort might be.
    And, yet? There are unending examples of how flawed this philosophy is.
    Despite the years gone by, consider the highly publicised and hip “approved by Dick” campaign for Miller Light a few years back. While consumers loved the entertainment value, the campaign drove the final nail into the brand’s coffin…until the Miller Brewing realized they had a product difference, the past couple of years, and spent behind it.
    More recently, consider Burger King’s “The King”. I don’t know recent sales figures, but end-of-year consumer surveys ranked it one of the least-liked ad campaigns. We ad folks fawn over it because it’s cutting-edge and “weird”. But how many everyday citizens would choose to sit down at a table with “the King” versus Ronald McDonald? I’d bet my paycheck on the latter, and so would Vegas. (I have an odds-maker friend in Vegas who’d put his own money on the same bet…for whatever that’s worth.)
    If our industry buys into the idea people don’t want a relationship with brands – that they only seek entertainment – we should all find new jobs. If entertainment is king, nobody’s going to say, “Those ad folks are really creative”? Welcome to Hollywood. And the unemployment line.
    Personally, I don’t care who writes an ad. But I want it to be good “copy”, not someone’s edit of a failed screenplay or standup bit, with product plastered on top. If we believe the future of advertising should be such a thing? Well, P.T. Barnum had it right.
    In the our industry, at least, a sucker is born every minute.
    God help us.

  4. Perhaps I’ve over-reacted to the original Godin comments. But I will stand by my contention that “we’re unhappy all the time” is a cynical and depressing statement. It may be a fact of life for a lot of old school adfolks producing shitty work in old school agencies. But let’s not transfer that misery onto the rest of society. “We’re unhappy all the time” and “I’m really happy with everything” are both extremes. We shouldn’t endorse either statement.
    I might agree that consumers are more demanding and fickle — and yes, they even have shorter attention spans and shorter interest in brands. But that’s mostly the result of increased choices delivered in increased media vehicles in a parity marketplace. Plus, folks realize that choice gives them the power to decide which products and services they’ll buy — on their terms, not the advertisers’ terms. I believe even Godin pushes these ideas.
    Creating new types of advertising and rethinking the notion of relationships doesn’t mean we should shut down Madison Avenue and call it a day. Rather, it means the industry needs to evolve and redefine its objectives and tactics.
    Didn’t mean to imply entertainment is the only thing to do. But it’s definitely as critical as the strategy. Is the idea of a lasting brand dead? Maybe. At least when defined by old school adfolks. Perhaps the idea of a lasting brand campaign is dead. Welcome to real life.
    The advertising industry was built on breakthrough thinking. Formulas were always shunned; or at least recognized as having a limited shelf life. So why should we embrace formulaic thinking regarding relationships? Need unending examples of flawed philosophies? Take a look at all the big agencies clinging to their outdated practices and structures. Most of them aren’t very big anymore. And a few have vanished entirely.

  5. This thread just seemed to appear to me.
    I’m heading to Vegas this weekend, first timer.
    And it’s a business / personal trip.
    And isn’t all business based on satisfaction / dissatisfaction?
    John Wingert