The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Welcome To Selfishness …
December 2, 2008, 6:45 am
Filed under: Comment

So last week I was in an airport lounge while the horror of Mumbai was unfolding.

As I sat there looking at the television screen shaking my head in sad disbelief , I noticed the other guys in the room were doing anything but watch what was going on a few thousand kilometres from where they were sitting.

Some were eating, some were talking, some were laughing, some were working, some were drinking, some were flirting …

Now I appreciate we all have our own lives … with our own worries, hopes, dreams … but it’s a sad indictment on society that the death/injury of hundreds of innocent people [literally happening infront of our eyes] can pass without it causing any interruption to our lives.

I know some people blame things like television, movies, newspapers or even video games – and whilst in some people, they may play a small part in societies evolution/devolution – I think in the main it’s more to do with our self-obsession than any external media influence.

So the next time you hear a client/agency/TBWA/Scamp talk about ‘disruptive communication’, tell them that if acts of terrorism fail to raise people’s heads from a free glass of fucking wine, then a 30 seconds television ad is unlikely to make any difference whatsoever.

If I was President of the World [which admittedly would be a very scary proposition], apart from making everyone listen to Queen and watch Jerry Springer, I’d decree everyone has to seek out a moment of accidental happiness because as much as I hoped the financial crisis might get some perspective back in people’s lives, I have a sneaky suspicion it’s manifesting itself into even greater personal focus than before.

Look I know this is more hippy shit from me … and I know adland is ultimately about selling stuff … but the thing HHCL taught me was that you should/could build brands, products and profits on ‘values’, not just rational product benefits so it’s sad to see that so much of our industry has forgotten how to truly emotionally enthuse people and just put all their eggs in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ or ‘contrived status’ baskets.

The ad industry used to change things … make things happen … get people thinking … now the majority of them are just sheep spending all their time trying to convince themselves they’re still a wolf.

They’re only fooling themselves.

31 Comments so far
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We live in a world where the sex lives of a minor celebrity can push near genocide to the 5th page of a so called newspaper.

As a society I don’t think we know how to deal with this kind of event. But even so, completely ignoring it is beyond sad.

I was at work when 9/11 happened, I watched it unfold on 60 different tv screens at a time alongside some bemused customers. I don’t think anyone could possibly have ignored it.

But then. We are in a world where bankers are happy to screw people over, take their money, and then ask them for bail outs when their risk taking gets too much. If you or I did that it would be called theft, fraud, greed and gambling addiction.

‘Screw the deaths of 200 people, did my shares go up today? No? Its a terrible day.’

Advertising is about selling yes. But it has to come with responsibility for what you say and do. Thats why I like you guys, and thats also why Landors text on your last post is so awful.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Watching it on twitter was interesting – noticing how it registered with different people at different times (many hours apart), noticing how some focussed on it and contributed (one friend with family there understandably so) while others noticed and then moved on to other twittering. And then I was presented with the dilemma of whether or not to slam back a personal jibe from one of my network who hadn’t noticed, immediately as another one reported another horrible incident.

Was my perception of my twitter network close enough to that of others in my network to cause offence if I did? Or was that just a product of my own individual alignment of tweets?

So I guess I’m saying that I think you can get peopel’s attention but the deciding factor is not the medium. Bottom line – for people to notice, they have to be either personally involved and/or morally educated to know what is important. And I think your ethos is all about trying to ensure that one or both of those factors prevail in the audiences you’re talking to.

Comment by John

i feel like shit but had to write. this is a fucking good post campbell but lets not try and confuse what happened in mumbai with peoples inactive involvement in adland.

people dont notice ads because most of them are fucking shit selling fucking shit via fucking shit but the death of innocent people live on television isnt about ads its about life so if that isnt “relavant” for us then we may as well kill ourselves now. or at least kill the fuckers who think its all part of darwin or gods master fucking plan.

dodds gallantly tries to link the post to the importance of message relevance but theres some things that should transcend that which is why i find myself shockingly agreeing with campbell when he says empathy is the secret weapon of communication.

im going to go home to be violently fucking sick and want to put it on record george didnt come in today :_)

Comment by andy@cynic

Is that what I was saying? Frankly I got lost. But I think personal involvement and moral compass are pretty close to empathy

Comment by John

“moral compass”? you sound like cherie fucking blair. read your last fucking paragraph dodds and all will become clear.

Comment by andy@cynic

I think what Andy is trying to say – and what I agree with – is that the level of ‘personal involvement’ that is needed for certain people to be engaged and involved is bordering on extreme and demostrates how desensitised and self absorbed as a society we have become.

I don’t believe empathy is based on personal involvement – it might help, but it is not dependent on it – because if it were, most planners would be out of a job because half the time they end up working on brands they have no connection with either because of interest, category or gender.

Comment by Robert

Everyone is being so serious on here so just tell me where the world’s most boring airport lounge is so I never end up visiting.

I’d say I miss you but my head still feels like the snare drum at a Slayer gig.

PS-I know this comment proves yoru point about self obsession Rob but I don’t give a fuck? πŸ™‚

Comment by Billy "New Boy" Whizz

Yes Billy, you proved my point beautifully, thank you.

And don’t worry about ever ending up at that ‘boring airport lounge’ [you’re being generous, it’s much worse than that] not only would they never let you within 1000kms of it, but we know you only like countries that speak American and as far as I know Hong Kong is quite happy with what they’ve got at the moment. Well until you invade them, ha!

PS: Congrats on making a man out of George.

Comment by Rob

Thank you for this post Rob.

I spent 3 days in shock watching the world around me go on as normal even as friends and people I knew were suffering…. It is amazing, it’s already yesterday’s news for the world. It’s on the 11th page of today’s newspaper .. and I havta wonder – I earn my living based on raising awareness and changing attitudes for clients, if I’m any good at it – I want to use it to help make sure we won’t have to live through this nightmare again..

ofc most people want to avoid pain at all costs, or thinking about suffering much less taking responsibility for it. It’s an unhappy picture whereas most advertising promises cheer…

and there are a million Indians like me wondering what the point of whatever we do/ Incredible India jazz is when a bunch of goons can just walk in and destroy it all in a few minutes..There WILL be change and it’s cause the voice of a million irate people is far more powerful than a campaign (sorry I’m going on like a political activist now, but as you know – this is personal for me and perhaps that’s why it’s so powerful. Finding that chord that resonates. Knowing that places I love are burning and people I love are scarred)

Comment by fink

I know what you mean when you say the World goes on as normal as you sit in your seat of emptiness, I felt a similar way when my Dad died but at least then people had the decency to acknowledge my pain when he passed away whereas too many people acted like life was as normal as the terrible scenes were being beamed around the World.

Mind you, putting aside the way in which those innocent people died, I guess it is normal given thousands of people die each day through no fault of their own.

I’ve said it before … but if Governments aren’t going to do anything unless it has ‘benefits’ for them, the opportunity is to try and get brands to ‘take up the slack’ and whilst that wouldn’t stop the tragedy that happened in Mumbai, it may help stop other tragedies that go on around us each day just out of our self-imposed blinkered view.

Comment by Rob

The single most important challenge to resolve after Mumbai is that India must be encouraged to avoid penalising Pakistan. As it stands, Pakistan is almost a failed state and has problems preventing the Taliban from crossing the Afghan border.

If India chooses to punish Pakistan they will shift 100 000 troops from the Afghan border where they try to control the Taliban and create a scenario where efforts to secure Afghanistan will fail and the potential for Pakistan and India to engage in war will reduce the lives lost in Mumbai to a figure that will seem incidental.

I didn’t feel too much about Mumbai. I didn’t watch any news because I knew enough from Twitter and apart from a visual to get a feel for the scale of the attack avoided MSM altogether.

Does this make me callous? Maybe, but proximity is always a serious issue for me. I can’t ignore the young mother with a baby outside my apartment. I have to ignore her for as long as possible because when I do pop some money in her cup it’s not coins.

I’m sure if I’d have seen the news unfold on TV I’d have been much more engaged but I’m not going to lie and suggest that I worry about what happened. I worry about what will happen and I think of ways I could yank somebody out of sitting on the pavement in the raging heat with high pollutions levels, breast feeding her baby.

I don’t think advertising comes into this so I’m not going to go there, but I will say that context is a thousand words in itself in this instance.

I’m not sure I agree with the notion that people are even more selfish. Here’s what I know. We’re looking at high unemployment, 10 years of no inflation and potentially the food distibution chain breaking down forcing us to rely on local produce dependant on where we live. There are much more smarter people than me who are suggesting the death of retail as we know it.

Read Douglas Rushkoff and listen to this podcast linked to in the top line. The post is ALL about self centred ways of thinking that got us into this mess.

Then if you aren’t read Rob Patterson’s blog its because what he has to say is too disturbing.

Read that post and then we can talk about what we are facing. I’d be inclined to say that marketing communications as we know it is on a precipice. If that sound alarmist then all I can say in mitigation is that this is the guy who tipped me off BEFORE Fannie and Freddie became household names. He is way ahead of the curve.

I don’t concur that we are becoming more selfish. These are early days and from what I can see the UK is crapping itself. It goes unsaid but I speak to people and ask them about the mood. You wouldn’t know it from Twitter but it’s there and it’s visceral. I’m also not sure because I was listening to this podcast about the French sociologist Emile Durkheim on Thinking Allowed, which points to people being happier when they are collectively in the shit. It’s the war syndrome and everything I know points to the single most powerful shake up of values in our lifetimes. It’s not there yet but I’m pretty sure it will happen and is why I think social media is so important for helping us to get through all this together; inexpensively, ubiquitously, intelligently and authentically. I’m not sure that advertising as we knew it is on my horizon when I think about the potential for a much more incredible world.

Listen if you have time:

I’m not sure that in a world where scarcity is the emerging issue that there’s a need for blanket marketing communications. For sure you’re not going to see 30 types of cheese slices in the supermarket in the not too distant future. That’s a promise on that one.

Maybe I’ve missed something with this post but I feel it’s a bit off the mark to tie in Mumbai and Advertising. And that’s coming from someone who was largely ambivalent about the event but deeply concerned about the ramifications.

Let’s not take our eye off the ball. The point of Mumbai is to provoke problems in much the same way that 911 created more problems for the US because of the way that it reacted than the event itself.

My Post party sweet spot (post) is about building a better world. The conditions are right to really take advantage of a change in sentiment and a change in supply side economics because the deep irony is that we didn’t cater to people’s demands but instead we invariably created those demands. The Soviet Union would have been proud.

But here’s the dangerous bit. We’ve got two directions. One I’ve outlined in my post and the other is a land grab for resources. We’re looking at something like 20-35% unemployment in developed countries and if you want to know what that looks like think about the last footage on the news that was filmed in South Africa.

It’s likely the crime rate will spiral and the world will be a bit of a rougher place.

That’s my estimation of where we’re heading and all we have to do now is wait and see but as the Rob Patterson post outlines. It took 4 years for the last depression to take effect.

This is just the beginning, and yes one thing I totally concur with you are the sheep trying to convince themselves they are a wolf.

You can often tell them from the pretend guerrilla marketing names they are inclined to award themselves. But it’s all wank. Not a shadow of a doubt.

Comment by Charles Frith

Not you are the sheep. It should just read …concur with are the sheep trying….


Comment by Charles Frith

It feels almost callous to be discussing the role of brands in our lives at this point, but taking on from your point Rob – yeah, great opportunity for brands in India to leverage ‘giving back’ – whether that’s the Taj/ Tatas or Reliance or Jindals who have the funds and access to the policy makers. Incidentally, I think there’s such warmth and attachment to the Taj brand that it’s not going to suffer – in fact there will be greater attachment to it. Ratan Tata (Taj Group) was there at the scene, there’s a *very* sad story about the GM of the hotel, who lost his entire family while he saved strangers… and there’s a pledge to rebuild, restore. PRS Oberoi on the other hand send out a statement about all hotels having glass facades and security checks getting in the way of hospitality… There are many many groups and citizen movements in India right now and though I’m not there, I’m in touch with friends who are organising them, and I havta say – any help companies give – would help both parties. I’d expect telecom (look at the power of twitter, it’s bigger than BBC)/ media/ airlines/ hotels & bars & restaurants to be the first…. but there’s scope for everyone from Pepsi to Nokia to help this cause.. from petitions to special safety numbers… endless… may not stop thousands of innocent ppl dying everyday anytime soon but might help give people a sense of control and empowerment when they need it the most..

Comment by fink

This post was not about advertising – I was simply pointing out that if people can happily ignore tragedies that are occuring infront of their eyes, then the belief they’ll be bothered enough to look at an ad seems even more stupid.

I appreciate your honesty Charles – and I know you’re a smart, decent, genuine and caring man – but I absolutely stand by the view we are becoming a more selfish society.

There are many factors that are creating this situation, and I accept media is highlighting [and allowing] this to happen to a greater degree than ever before, but I find it hard to believe that you think the community is as close and committed as it was say 30 years ago.

This isn’t about looking at history with ‘rose tinted glasses’ … I know there was a lot of fucked up things that went on … however when you look at what people are currently doing, thinking, buying, acting … you realise that in the main, their focus in on themselves and the only time they react is when they feel society is conspiring against them when the reality is their action [or should I say inaction] has contributed to the situation they find so distasteful.

We live in a society that doesn’t know how to debate … how to compromise … how to say yes … how to say no … how to embrace justice … how to share … how to wait … it’s all about what the individual wants and if they don’t get what they want, they scream, shout, fight about it …

People can happily bitch about wanting good hospitals, education, police, environment … but they don’t want to pay for it or suffer in any way. It’s like people who hate their career and wants to do something else but don’t follow up on it because they like the money their getting. Well you know what, you can’t have it all ways … you have to sometimes take a bit of a hit for the greater good and until we get rid of this sense of entitlement [which in inherent in cultures, religions and commerce] we’re going to continually go down in a spiral whilst we look around us for someone to blame.

We are a society that has lost perspective and I blame adland for some of that – but like you said, it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets worse and unless people, companies and governments pull their heads in and open their eyes, we’re going to become a world made up of silo’s and whilst that might be fine for some, there’s a hell of a lot of countries in the World who are about as self sufficient as Posh Spice.

Comment by Robert

it’s interesting that john mentioned twitter regarding this post. not having a tv, i was completely out of the loop until i read someone’s tweet about it – and then i was straight onto BBC site, reading about what happened. unlike 9/11 where i watched it all ‘real time’ on tv, i felt completely self-absorbed because i wasn’t watching it ‘unfold’. i was just that little bit behind, and only reading it – i had no sound, no visuals – all i had to go from were people’s reactions to it. it felt like i had gone back to the ‘olden days’ where i heard about the latest blitzkrieg from the newspaper and the movie reels.

it did get me thinking about what i miss out on in abstaining from tv life – that connection to current affairs. but, by the same token, i ended up having some amazing conversations about the situation, sharing information in a very direct way, rather than through a news service, or non-stop video loop track of it. I sought info about it, rather than having it spat all over me.

and that, i think, is one link to adland i would make. there are a generation of kids coming through for whom seeking their connection is the process of engagement, rather than a braodcast model, and the market needs to respond specifically, rather than subjecting people to a blanket of info.

Comment by lauren

I know what you’re saying Lauren, but some information should transcend media and general clutter – and yet there are many people out there who only focus when there’s a blatant ‘what’s in it for me’ element … even though in reality, the ramifications of something like Mumbai will definitely impact their lives in some way or other.

But regardless of that, I just am sad that people can sit in an environment where all around them is the unfolding of unwarranted pain and suffering [be it on TV, internet, newspaper or carrier pigeon] and they can maintain their focus on whatever incidental thing they’re doing without giving so much as 2 seconds of awareness to the plight of others.

No wonder Governments can get away with so much shit …

Comment by Robert

I was hoping you saw my comment as more confused than polarised. I only realised that once I’d read yours.

For sure we’re more selfish than 30 years ago. The more we have it seems the more unhappy we become. I totally agree with you on that. I guess I’m trying to say that these are possibly the most incredible times to be alive. I’ve not been this excited about the potential for real change than I have ever been in my life. I’m sure that we have a once in a species opportunity to realign ourselves.

I believe that selling is a noble business and that there will always need to be a transactional process that faciliates the exchange of goods and services for whatever is deemed the value metric.

I’m increasingly sure that the 20th century marketing communications model is largely broken and yet I’m convinced there isn’t a better time to have a say in the future of this business than right now.

I completely agree with you that we need to think seriously about developing and strengthening our existing relationships. Be it with the security guard, the 7-Eleven staff, our colleagues or our families. I thought this post by Confused of Calcutta hit the nail on the head using the household as a model for cooperation.

So in summary. I think we are selfish. But I think we’re on the cusp of a tremendous and profound change. It will be rough and dangerous but unless we all accept that we are all in it together, then the alternative is that we are only in it for ourselves and we face a bleak future.

Rushkoff also talks about that in his podcast.

If we do embrace that we are all in it together and have a shared responsibility to get through it together then the future could be a lot more generous than we have seen thus far. That may sound naive but without the three stool legs of self reappraisal (forced by economic turmoil), social media (as a humanising force that fosters transparency, authenticity and understanding) and lastly the need to reward frugality and sustainability (just in the nick of time) I’d probably say it was a futile idealist sentiment. It could all fall apart of course but we wont get a chance like this ever again.

So yes. People are astonishingly selfish but I feel the imminent rude awakening has a real chance to jolt us out of our ways. The alternative is actually a lot more painful.

Does that make sense? Probably not but it’s a chance we shouldn’t let slip by and if ever there was a time to be really creative in our thinking. It’s now.

Comment by Charles Frith

It makes more sense than your previous comment πŸ˜‰

In all seriousness, yes it does and I do agree the potential for real change is there like never before … but whether that manifests itself into reality is the big question because people prosper in chaos and they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep things confusing.

Which leads to Thursday’s post … πŸ™‚

Comment by Robert

” I just am sad that people can sit in an environment where all around them is the unfolding of unwarranted pain and suffering [be it on TV, internet, newspaper or carrier pigeon] and they can maintain their focus on whatever incidental thing they’re doing without giving so much as 2 seconds of awareness to the plight of others.”…

me too…

Comment by lauren

The link to both is still involvement.

Let’s face it, its not new to only notice a tragedy when it affects you.

The USA getting involved in WW2 properly only after Pearl Harbour for example.

People are often selfish, especially when money is tight; but sometimes we ignore devestation because we don’t know how we are ‘supposed to react’.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I know what you’re saying Mr M but I think that’s a bit simplistic and a rather convienient excuse.

That’s not aimed at you, it’s aimed at everyone because whilst I appreciate there is definitely truth to what you say – the fact is when people see others being innocently killed, that should be all the relevance and involvement they need – it shouldn’t be based on the fact they share the same country, name, t-shirt, underware manufacturer or surname.

I’ve said it before, but the DNA of the human race is hypocracy and I hate I’m as bad as the next person.

Comment by Rob

now if only there was a way to get people feeling closer..hmmm

Comment by niko

It is simplistic, but that’s only for some people. It’s only one reason of many. It doesn’t justify it at all, but imagine if you had to suddenly comprehend another Auschwitz; I think it would take most people a while to accept it could happen; and many many would try to ignore it and hope its a lie.

Its the same impulse that makes us scan through the footage of starving children when watching red nose day etc. It doesn’t always mean we don’t care.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Funny you should mention Auschwitz … but that’s for tomorrow.

Yes you’re right people don’t like their perfectly created deluded lives to be impacted by the worst of society, but there’s a big difference between scanning through the footage and ignoring it … especially as it ultimately starts impacting our ability to be empathetic which then speeds the sorry devolution up.

This is why democracy sucks … because no government is going to take this issue of delusion on to the extent it needs it because it won’t be a vote winner even though it’s potential to undermine the attractiveness of the country from many aspects is sever.

No, I’m not advocating communism – because lets face it, they treat misinforming their people in the same way as democracy – I just think there’s a need for a major ‘corrective situation’ but it won’t happen in my lifetime but I am sure there’ll be a point where it will happen if we carry on as we are.

God, ending the night of apocolypse … and it’s not even Monday! πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

It certainly is often deluded. But sometimes its that scary sense that once you accept all that is wrong with the world it becomes hard to function.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

That explains why multinational ad agencies behave the way they do. πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

I think people are afraid.

Good evening.

Comment by Marcus

Im reading this post too late and dont have the patience to go through 27 comments…so am still reacting to the original post.

I am from Bombay and most of my family lives there (behind the Taj to be precise) while i work in adland here in Singapore.

On the three days this went on for, i was amazed at how no one even acknowledged this was going on. Commiseration was of course too much to expect from educated, aware, sensitive westerners and Singaporeans.

What seemed to engross and absorb them was the prospect of having a hooker at the Christmas bazaar. Of course, the most reputed agencyin asia had done its bit to save the world by promiding to donate the proceeds of the bazaar to orphans

So it was some ten indians, who huddled around their desks, watching real time videos and looking serious while all the boys were busy discussing hooker auction tactics, ended up looking insular, ghettoish and being spoilsports in the Christmas fun!


p.s. my old chinese cleaning aunty who cant even speak english was the first to ask if everyone was ok…

Comment by someone

sorry for the typos…shaking with anger

Comment by someone

I’m fearless Marcus. I can’t exlain why although I think you’re the same. You’ve just kicked of a startup in the possibly the hardest time ever. But you know what you’re doing and I’m quietly confident *leans over and picks another mango from the tree*

Comment by Charles Frith

There is never a better time to start a company than in a recession as long as you’re the sort of company who is willing to ‘do’ rather than just ‘say’. If ever there’s a time companies want action other than just multinatonal words, it’s now.

Well, that’s what I keep saying to myself πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

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