Who’s Flying This Thing, Anyway?

Mike Wolfsohn, founder-chief creative officer at High Wide & Handsome has some news for us. Despite reports to the contrary, “the consumer” is not in control.

Here’s a clip from his Ad Age essay:

Since the advent of the DVR and social media, “The consumer is in control” has been among the most popular refrains uttered by those in the business of counseling brands on how to connect with their audience. Unfortunately, this widely embraced platitude is a predicated on a fallacy: Consumers may have a louder voice than ever, but they’re hardly in control.

In fact, consider how much control consumers have actually lost in recent years. From behavioral targeting and re-marketing practices that result in ads that follow internet users from site to site to the use of personal information and photos in ads on social networks, consumers are increasingly finding themselves members of an involuntarily submissive, even ad-abused audience.

Wolfsohn contends that the ability to avoid advertising doesn’t qualify as control. “That advertising is now subject to immediate, mass feedback does not mean marketers have given up control; it simply means they’ve lost the freedom to be thoughtless,” he writes.

In the comments on the Ad Age piece, Michael Durwin counters that “it is important for marketers to be knowledgeable about what they can control and what they can’t. Brands can address perception but they don’t own it.” In other words, brands do control the messages they craft and distribute, but brands lack control when it comes to how their messages are perceived.



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.