Wrong, Wrong, And Wrong Again

As an avid consumer of business journalism, I see way too many shortcomings in the stories I read.

Take this morning’s example, a piece in The Guardian about how the fictional Don Draper wouldn’t thrive in today’s multimedia universe.

For Matthew Neale, managing director of the global marketing company Golin Harris, the world where ad execs such as Draper and his team were the “exclusive arbiters of creativity and modernity is over”.

“Today’s consumers want a conversation with their brands and they are being their own art directors using media like YouTube,” Neale said. “That’s a big reason why the old model is failing. While this new way will never replace agencies, it shows how competitive things have become and for traditional ad agencies, that’s creating panic in the room.”

Mr. Neale, like so many in this business, is mouthing absurdities. There’s no panic surrounding a threat from consumer generated content. Yes, consumer generated content has a place at the table today, but in no way does it threaten the agency, or the creative people therein. CGC is one tool in a very large toolbox, and that’s all.

Neale also says consumers are their own art directors. Dude, please. Technology-rich consumers are far from their own art directors. You can place a chainsaw in a man’s hands, but that doesn’t make him a lumberjack. This whole line of thinking, which is fairly widespread, is embarrassing.

As for consumers wanting to have a conversation with brands, that too, is mostly hearsay. What consumers want to do is talk to each other. When brands facilitate interesting ways for consumers to do that, they win.

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. Nothing will defeat the idea that consumers are their own directors more than to play the app “Draw Something”. “Pinning” photos on pinterest makes you an Art Director like “sharing” KONY 2012 makes you an activist. Not.

  2. I seem to remember a conversation between Don Draper and Harry Crane where Crane asks Draper if he has seen something (a film). Draper responds, “I see everything.”

    I submit that those who say Don Draper would flop in today’s media landscape aren’t really paying attention to the show. What makes Don Draper great—the reason his ideas are so good—is that he knows what consumers want. He knows this because he “sees everything.” In other words, he is intimate with popular culture. He understands it even when he may not even like it.

    My experience in this business has been that most failures aren’t primarily creative in nature; they are cultural in nature. The so-called digital divide in most agencies today is really less about technology and more about a generation gap. Those at the top (i.e. those that have been in the business for many years) have often lost touch with culture. They operate from a place of “this is how it’s always been done,” insisting that their approach has worked in the past. That much may be true; their approach may have indeed worked in the past, however they fail to realize that they are marketing to new generations, each one less like the one that preceded it.

    This is what the character of Don Draper seems to get, and this is why I think that, were he doing business today, Don Draper would be doing just fine.

    • Don would be just fine, I agree, because a craftsman has a place in the world. What doesn’t have a place is nonsense. You know Hal that I’m all about conversational marketing, but I am also about *adding* it to the mix. It’s not just about disruption, it’s about how we roll with the changes. For instance, TV is bigger than ever, and very often TV drives social. That’s additive. 

      Which takes me pack to the many tools in the toolbox line from above. Craftsmen know how to use their tools, they also learn to use new tools as they become available, and they don’t lose that ability as they age. They deepen and sharpen their abilities.