Some Revel In Crumbling Empires, Others Are Building Empires Anew

Steve Rosenbaum, writing for Business Insider, profiles Ad Age critic Bob Garfield. Rosenbaum apparently saw him in action in Austin last week.

Bob Garfield has fans. They corner him on street corners late at night: “You changed my LIFE, man,” says one young hipster. Garfield looks bemused. “After I heard you talk, I quit my job.”
“Oh, hmm… great,” Garfield mumbles.

I’m kind of curious what job the dude left because of Garfield’s wisdom. Was it a lame job in an ever lamer ad agency? Probably. I say probably because of Garfield’s recent rhetoric about not being able to control a brand’s message any longer. “They want more than curation. But curation’s the best they can hope for,” says Garfield about brands and their agencies.
That must sound damning to people who’ve been shaping commercial culture for decades. But personally, I like to curate. That’s what we do here at AdPulp and from what we’ve been told, people find value in it.
In related news, Lockhart Steel, one of the nation’s great curators, is profiled by Mark Oppenheimer in The New York Times.
Oppenheimer reports that Steele’s most popular site, Curbed, had 2.6 million unique visitors in 2009, its most ever, about 400,000 more than in 2008; Steele says that advertising revenue went up even faster, by 30 percent last year, and that the business started making a profit in the second half of 2009.
Oppenheimer also touches on one the keys to content curation–episodic storytelling.

The Gawker voice — which Steele helped hone — is snarky and knowing, but above all, it is episodic. In the Gawker world, every item is potentially part of a longer drama, a narrative to unfold in time (with links to old Gawker posts). At Curbed, the dramatis personae aren’t adulterous actors and politicians but buildings, whose fortunes and misfortunes are chronicled in order to help the discerning buyer and to provide schadenfreude to the salivating reader.

Thanks to the media habits of white collar workers around the world, episodic content is where it’s at today. But very few ad agencies provide episodic content. An ad campaign may run for many years, but the storyline isn’t necessarily advanced. Yet, advancing the story (branded or otherwise) on a daily basis is the heart of the matter today. Stories, and storytellers, that people can connect with, tweak and redistribute are invaluable.
Once upon a time, an ad’s function was to stop a reader from returning to the editorial content. It’s time for advertisers to stop asking for borrowed attention, and instead create content that is in itself compelling. Well done commercial mesaging needs to be the draw, not the window dressing.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.