Amateurism: The New Gold Standard

For some time now, modern civilization has been doing its best to undermine the forces that unfairly oppress it. It’s a matter of humanism and of pride to take something that isn’t working and actually do something about it.

Except, it seems, when it comes to advertising. Advertising is an annoyance, a fly in the ointment of our culture, yet it’s still around and strong as ever. Why? There are a lot of reasons why, but simply put: it has a lot to do with money.

Money shapes a message. If creativity is the body of advertising, money is the food, shelter, and warmth that keep great ad ideas alive.

The way an ad is delivered is also a matter of money. Media costs are several times the cost of production, online and off-. That means a lot of influence is given to who puts the ad where in the milieu of our communication streams.

It’s a complicated business, but the advertising institution has honed its skills to pull off some amazing marketing communications feats.

Institutions (not the ones with people in white coats and medication) are formed to maintain some standard of quality in their work. Quality standards exist for all crafts to work toward. It’s a way of ensuring only the best expression of any human endeavor shines upon the masses.

Then, along comes the Internet.

In our drive to be more connected, the byproduct of our collective enthusiasm has done something unthinkable: it’s lowered our standards. The people who create, the people who criticize, even the indifferent are paying attention to rampant amateurism. And that attention is lowering the standard of marketing communications throughout the world.

As always, people are to blame. These masses, armed with technology, some ideas, and a lot of wanton exhibitionism, have taken center stage in our micro-entertainment sound-byte world.

But it’s fun to be an amateur. Nobody’s paying you, so you can be as good or as bad as you want to be. And people are paying more and more attention each day. The content gap has created a content glut, like a crammed Tokyo subway at rush hour.

Some content is pointless, some is exhibitionism, some aimed at making something better than something else. In other words, it’s marketing. And how is it someone can adore or criticize without getting paid for it?

Let’s not fool ourselves; there’s no quality check on any video posted on YouTube (GoogTube, if you’re trendy). Apart from the questionably risqué or violent, you can put almost anything up there.

Is this really the end of the pitch? The end of the script? The interactive marketing campaign? The end of catering in exotic locations? Is it the end of countless conversations with clients and focus groups for the validation and success of an idea?

If you’re a brand marketer, why not just get a digital video camera and do it yourself? If anyone can create a buzz by posting on YouTube, why not you? Cut out the middleman and bring home the bacon for your team. C’mon, give it a try!

This may seem scary to some of you, and it should. Remember that we do have standards for what we collectively (client and agency) create. Those standards are as valuable as any user generated content, if not more so.

If you’re thinking the next successful ideas are only required to exist on the level of blatant emulation and low-grade execution, think again. User-generated or digital amateurism is an demonstration of love for the ability to connect, show off, and do something you didn’t think you could. That’s not advertising. It’s self-expression. It’s communication on a basic, unedited level. Truly, it’s amazing to look into other peoples’ lives and see them make fools of themselves.

At some point, our collective reality fascination will ebb, and the collective desire for entertainment will evolve. Interactivity will see a rise in popularity.

Right now, the Internet is a pale example of the quality of design that can go into an interactive experience. The ability to understand and anticipate that trend is the job of every brand advertiser out there. Our current trend isn’t an ending but an interesting detour in our journey to find a better way to communicate with our evolving audience. Maybe we should start by creating a few standards.

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