As a marketer, it is always in my mind that the mood of the public is important to what I do. But what do you do when the public is in no mood for your advertising shenanigans?
Dark have been my feeds of late. Innocent people killed. Innocent police officers killed. What’s been solved? What have we learned? What have we accomplished?
The seams of our society seem to be more threadbare. The Romans, as their civilization unwound, were prone to lascivious or voyeuristic distraction. If you visit BuzzFeed often, you’re repeating history. Those Romans were caught in the throes of empirical nepotism, when the next ruler was half as competent and twice as corrupt as the last. Tell me that does not resemble our own circus of an electoral process. It’s a wonder to me that the seams held as long as they did for the Italians, but that makes me wonder.
How strong are our seams? How serious are people in their thankfulness for what America and our society offers, however flawed? And how serious are they about having their voices matter? Violence is, in the scale and scope of societal change, a distraction. Outrage is a numb divider. The longer it lasts, the more normal it becomes. It changes nothing for the better.
We are prone to distraction. That’s a human thing, not a technology thing. The Romans had no smartphones, Pokemon games, BuzzFeeds or the like. They simply had a populace that saw its trajectory to earth too late. Not that I respect Roman society all that much – slavery, violence, Imperialism, and debauchery are not cornerstones of a healthy society. But I do see in them a reflection of where we are today.
There is a loud and constant demand for equality, but there is little understanding of the word. Equality, as far as I can tell, should be a barometer of opportunity, not of status. I want to be equal to Warren Buffet, but I know I do not deserve it as I have not his talents, knowledge, or experience. I have not taken his risks. I have not made his decisions. That’s the kind of equality people seem to be after these days. Equality of possession, not of opportunity. In Rome, there was slavery. In America, there is entitlement. Neither is right.
Violence was entertainment in Rome for a time, when the Coliseum was packed with throngs of the blood-thirsty and bored. Think about it for a moment. A society that says it is willing to charge admission for you to watch someone die at the end of a spear or in the jaws of a lion is obviously stating that the value of life is cheap. Mind your words and deeds in such a society. Yet, we tolerate great amounts of violence in our day-to-day lives. The scope of America is far greater than Rome, so equal violence will seem much greater. We blame guns and terrorists and mental illness, none of which are the problem. We do not value life. This is obviously the case when someone can no longer safely claim that all lives matter. One life must be worth more than another.
The trick is, once you assign a value to life, it can be bought and sold. It becomes, like oil, a commodity. Life should be priceless.
Imperialism probably conjures the idea of conquering other countries. Rome did that and America has as well. There will always be war as long as there are people and resources over which to fight. but I’m not talking about that. Imperialism has another facet. It exerts control. It strangles liberty. Woe betide you who badmouth the Emperor when one of his retinue was in earshot. That was a free ticket to the Coliseum with better-than-front-row seating arrangements – an invitation to have someone tickle your ribs with something very sharp. In America, too, we have turned our Imperial instincts inward.
And we have draped that cloud of interference in the guise of protection. You can’t have privacy, but here, have some security. You can’t have your freedom, but here, try safety on for size. Prosperity? Sorry, fresh out. But have some “equality” instead. It’s good for you.
Debauchery? Look at your news feed. Count how many “her dress dropped jaws” or “wardrobe malfunction” or “sexy selfie” headlines you see. Sex is truly the weapon of mass distraction.
We are enamored with our boogeymen. The creatures under the bed are the ones telling us not to be scared of the creatures in the closet, who will tell us that the under-bed creatures are much much worse. On one side, most Americans will tell you that our government is inept, and in the next sentence, they’ll claim the government will protect them. On the left, they decry police officers as dangerous and out of control, and then tell you that you shouldn’t have a firearm because those same police are on the job. On the right, they tell you to own all the guns you want, just in case some evil terrorist comes home to roost. Meanwhile, they define terrorist as “everyone who practices a certain religion, or is perhaps brown.”
Advertising can teach us many things. As the world’s second-oldest profession, it predates both America and Rome. Here’s a quick primer.
#1 An advertisement that has, at its core, a real truth and no misdirection will be more successful and make a more successful product than one that is flippant, irrelevant, distracting, or untrue. The same applies to a society. Or news. Or government. Unless these are true, and communicate with truth, they will eventually fail. Lies are cards. Only so many can be stacked before the house crashes.
#2 “Free” is a powerful word, but it creates the wrong expectation. Giving a product away to start is often a good way to get people to try it, but once they have, it must stand on its merits if the company is ever to make money. Governments around the world are hooked on the old bait-and-switch. They call things “free” while they charge you for them elsewhere. Nothing from any government anywhere is free. You have likely paid for it multiple times over. If people know exactly how much things cost, they can establish value and decide for themselves if they’re willing to pay for the product. Societies should demand the same.
#3 Powerful personalities do not necessarily mean great decision makers. In advertising, the upper echelon of creatives, directors and above, carry the executioner’s sword for ideas. Most of them have large personalities, and I’d say about half of them have decent decision-making skills. In government, with the present object lesson implied, big personalities are no guarantee of better-than-wretched decision making skills.
I very much love my country, but like my profession, it has taken a very sour turn lately. It is almost always down to poor leadership at the very top, and an easily distracted population at the bottom. People clamor for equality, then lose sight of the goal when the next Marvel movie comes out, or the next time Ciara flashes underboob. People are outraged now so often that is less a state of mind and more a state of being. Perpetual outrage. Fueled by cable news and agendas. Brought to you by Starbucks and Bank of America and Huggies.
We’re doing our best Rome impression. Do not feed the lions.