If you have high blood pressure or a propensity to weep for the nation, DO NOT turn on your TV today.
If you do turn on the TV, the chance that you will be overwhelmed in an avalanche of state-sponsored lies is much too high. Instead, let’s hear from a man who knows a lot about state-sponsored lies, former chess champion of the world, Garry Kasparov. Kasparov grew up in a totalitarian state, where the news was what the Kremlin said it was.
Now, he weighs in with authority on today’s imperial fantasies forwarded as facts.
Unable to change the facts, Trump and his supporters instead try to shift the debate into an alternate universe where the truth is whatever they say it is today. Trump repeats the same lies over and over, and it’s hard to say which is more troubling — that his followers don’t realize that they are lies or that they don’t care. Globalization and the internet may have made the world smaller, but now we’re experiencing a counterattack, the regionalization of truth.
The internet was supposed to shine the light of truth into every corner of the world, breaking the authoritarians’ monopoly on information. But it has also become a light-speed delivery system of lies and propaganda. The web has been chopped into pieces. Like a shattered mirror, each fragment reflects a different distorted image instead of a single reality.
I appreciate Kasparov’s laying a good bit of the blame for today’s distortion schemes on the rise of digital media. As media and marketing professionals, we must see digital media with no particular bias. We need to see it for all that is, good, indifferent, and bad. Greater clarity and shared understanding about what digital is good for, and conversely, what it is not good for is the starting place for making strategic recommendations.
Truth Decay and the Danger for Brands
When Kasparov speaks of “the regionalization of truth,” what, if anything, might this mean for brands? To me, it means when public information can no longer be trusted because everyone has their own truth, brands are subject to an even keener bullshit meter from potential customers. The high bar just got much higher. When the truth itself is diminished, the argument for finding and sharing brand truth may also become weakened. Without a legitimate and trusted place to tell brand stories, the industry as a whole is in jeopardy of further decline.
I believe marketing and media pros have an obligation to the audience and to their employers to raise the bar by raising standards.
My friend, Bob Hoffman thinks part of the blame for marketing’s loosening grip on reality and clients is an unwillingness to tell true stories about marketing failures. Here’s another arrow from the Contrarian’s quiver:
The narratives we are exposed to are profoundly skewed by the bias toward trumpeting success, not failure…This is perilous. It leads to conferences, books and, god help us, Powerpoints, extolling the efficacy of these activities based on wildly unrepresentative samples.
By “these activities” he means any of the heavily hyped new pseudo-solutions like “social media, content marketing, virtual reality, native advertising, “personalization,” blockchain, and whatever other new marketing miracle happens to be trending this week.”
Fail Fast and Jump Back Up
To discuss marketing failures means to deal in facts and truth. It also requires courage and trust, two essential ingredients that are often missing in media and marketing companies, as well as in client companies.
There are plenty of books and Fast Company features on teamwork, leadership and business ethics. But how well do these thought pieces convert? Are you reading this article now and thinking, “how am I going to find time to break my routine and focus on a deeper level of problem-solving?”
What I offer you here, and what Hoffman offers, is all based on common sense, but the workday reality has a way of creeping in and reality dictates that by close of business today, you need to place programmatic ads for three clients, dig into analytics reports, attend four meetings, conduct two Zoom chats, find new staff, and so on. There are methods for dealing with the disease of busyness, but the bottom line for all of us working in media and marketing today…we require the room and the time to focus. Success also requires a bullshit meter of your own, and a willingness to question reality and challenge authority.
For what it’s worth, Hoffman and I want you to win. That’s why we care enough to break it down, write it down, give talks and conduct workshops. So, please don’t leave this article with a false promise to yourself. Change comes by degrees and the needle is moved toward progress ever so slightly day by day.