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Even the small screens deserve big ideas

I once made a simple observation that 95% of all advertising was mediocre or worse.

That was back in the days when TV, radio and print ran the media bandwagon. I also surmised that advertising was a reflection not just of culture, but also of other media. And as the quality of movies, TV and music decreased so went advertising.

The advertising industry soaked up mediocrity like a sponge. Instead of holding up movies like “Citizen Kane” as the gold standard, it instead chose the latest Adam Sandler movie. So what did we expect? Most Hollywood movies are inferior, so is most advertising. Don’t rock the boat. Everybody is happy and making money.

Then something very surprising happened. Something that I thought would raise the bar for those of us who create or enjoy intelligent writing.  Amidst the onslaught of witless reality shows, the quality of TV drama series got much better. The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, The Shield, Dexter, Breaking Bad set new benchmarks for writing, directing and acting. Were things about to change?

Unfortunately, the renaissance in TV dramas couldn’t overcome another more powerful development: new media.

It really started with the proliferation of cable channels. There wasn’t and isn’t enough talent on the planet to fill hundreds of channels with worthy content, entertainment or advertising. The great new dramas were just a blip compared to the hundreds of hours of filler shows like “Real Housewives of Secaucus”.

Of course, the problem of mind-wasting content exploded with the internet. All of a sudden, we went from being exposed to thousands of advertisements to millions. The percentage of mediocre advertising is still about 95% — except now we’re witnessing it on a more overwhelming level.

This is only exacerbated by all of the content-starved innovations like smart phones and tablets. They are technological life changers looking for content as inventive as the device itself. Big TV sets and big events like the Super Bowl demand big ideas (not that they get them.). Do small screens deserve smaller ideas? Is it acceptable to think that since it will only be seen on a small screen, the idea doesn’t have to be big?

Disposable and fast advertising equals inconsequential. Inconsequential in the world of advertising equals big waste of money.

Just making an app or an ad on a tablet doesn’t mean it’s cool or good. Just like being on Facebook doesn’t mean it has any impact. Too many agencies and clients are proud of the fact that they are on Facebook. That’s totally ridiculous and wasteful. Being on Facebook isn’t that much different than being on TV. So what? If it’s compelling, people will pay attention; if it’s not, people will ignore it. It’s not just where you are, it’s what you do with it.

I’m sure a follower of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” will disagree with me. And maybe the medium was the message for the first pioneers of Facebook, Twitter, smart phones and tablets. But when everybody is using the same devices and networks and just throwing stuff up to see what sticks, then all we are doing is exponentially adding to the great content wasteland.

My advice is simple: raise your standards. Small screens do not justify small ideas. New media is already old and filled with old and tired ideas. Is that bad news?

No, it’s good news. Because it means there are incredible opportunities for marketers who still think for a living.

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