Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Kingdom Of Adz

I wanted to share with you something from of one of the true re-thinkers of the ad business—Hal Riney. As you know, Hal’s no longer with us. But if we’re smart, we’ll hang on to his way of thinking as long as we can. This parable is a case in point. Enjoy.


In the last years of the Nineteenth Century, in the world of Biz, a new empire would be born in the distant lands of Philadelphia and New York. A tiny band of noblemen, led by an obscure knight, Weyland of Ayer, gathered together an army of writers and artists, called Kraetives, who lived in poverty in the tiny hovels and attics of the Golden Lands of the East.

The Kraetives were little more than slaves, often forced to survive on nothing more than meager portions of bread and water. Nevertheless, they were strong and tireless, and capable of toiling from dawn until midnight, fashioning exquisite works of art and elegant writings. And soon, with the labors of the Kraetives, Weyland of Ayer -- along with such trusty knights as Young of Rubicam, Theodore of Bates, and Erickson of McCann -- had built the tiny but powerful kingdom that was called Adz.

The kingdom of Adz was governed by a middle aristocracy called the Count Men, who dressed in splendid robes of silks and cashmere, and gathered in the taverns and inns of the village of Madison to feast on caviar and strong liquors called Martinae, flavored by the juniper berry. Each morning, the Count Men would gather up the paintings and scriptures produced by the Kraetives, to barter them with neighboring kingdoms in the world of Biz, which were ruled by cruel dictators called the Klients. In turn, the Klients would offer the paintings and scriptures to the populous, who in return would promise to buy the Klients’ goods.

Pocketing their gold and carrying with them new directions and commands from the Klients, the Count Men would then return to the village of Madison to demand more paintings and more scriptures from the Kraetives to take to the market next morning.

For nearly a century, the kingdom of Adz flourished. With the aid of artwork and scriptures from the Kraetives, the Klients were able to market their goods. And the knights and the Count Men prospered.

But in the damp, dark workrooms of Adz, there were angry murmurings. “What do the Count Men do?” the Kraetives asked. “They offer naught but flowery speeches, and then direct us to make our writings and artworks uglier and uglier to please the Klients, and to earn for themselves more bags of jewels and gold!” And the murmurs grew to a roar of resentment and revolution.

Then, in the final decades of the Twentieth Century, the strongest, wisest and most handsome of the Kraetives -- Bernbach of Doyle and Dane -- gathered together the most skilled of the writers and artists of Adz, and suggested that while the Count Men served a valuable purpose in performing tasks that were often abhorrent to the Kraetives (even sharing meals on occasions with the Klients), there was no reason the Kraetives could not do the work and the selling of that work, themselves.

At first, the Klients were suspicious when approached by the Kraetives; many were shabbily dressed or clothed in unfamiliar garments, and they came unprotected by shields of charts, or armed with the sharpened pointers always carried by the Count Men.

But the writings and the works of art the Kraetives brought with them surpassed in style and wit and intelligence anything the Klients had ever seen. And soon, the works of the Kraetives not only hung on the walls of the entire world of Biz, but appeared on magic boxes in the homes of all the natives of the Golden Lands.

The new works of the Kraetives not only proffered the many goods produced in the world of Biz, but at the same time, entertained all who saw them. And Bernbach of Doyle and Dane became a hero, inspiring others to follow his lead.

Soon the Kraetives, most from humble beginnings, had an aristocracy of their own. The lords of the world of Biz would hear new names: David of Ogilvy, Edward of McCabe, Helmut of Krone, Carl of Ally, and Emil of Gargano. Tiny new kingdoms would grow even in the Golden Lands of the West, led by such men as Clow of Venice, Goodby of Francisco, and Weiden of Oregon. Skilled artistic women such as Phyllis of Robinson, Mary of Wells, and Shirley of Polykoff were even offered knighthoods.

But this was a new aristocracy; one that was considerate and respectful of the populace, with writings and artworks that not only offered suggestions as to how to better the lives of the people, but, as a reward for the attention to their messages, touched and amused their audiences as well.

The multitudes of the Golden Lands were enthralled, and would huddle around their magic boxes awaiting new works from the new nobles of Adz. The Klients prospered as never before, and the Kraetive knights were rewarded with gleaming statues and medals of silver and gold.

But the Count Men and their rich and powerful knights, such as Walter of Thompson, Durstine of Osborn, and even those across the Atlantic Sea such as the Saachis of Saachi, would not be content to see their power slowly slipping into the hands of the Kraetives. Well before the turn of the Twenty-first Century, having now recruited another powerful ally – the Searchers -- they gathered in the inns and towers of Madison and Londontown, plotting their return.

To aid in their cause, they enlisted counsel from the most powerful castles of learning: Harvard of Massachusetts, Wharton of Pennsylvania, and Columbia of New York. They invented a new language – a language understood only by themselves and the Searchers and the Klients – called Mbaspeak.

To others, including the Kraetives, Mbaspeak was a foreign, stilted jargon employing undefined acronyms such as ROI and CPM, and strange new words such as “Demographics” and “Targetaudience.” The unique quality of Mbaspeak was that, while sounding learned and lofty, it was a language that seldom actually revealed anything except occasionally by accident.

But the most powerful weapon the Count Men would employ was perhaps the most fearsome machine the world had ever known, diminishing in significance even the hydrogen bomb:

The Computer.

The Computer was devised by two small clans in the land of Biz: the Ibms, and the Macs. The Ibms were a cold and stoic group, the Macs more friendly and outgoing. But their new weapons produced essentially the same result.

Employing the Computer, the Count Men would approach a Klient who had just begun showing the Golden Land’s populace one of the wonderful new works from the Kraetives.

“Have your sales increased since yesterday?” a Count Man would ask. “Let us find out!”

And the Count Man would simply push a button, revealing a screen indicating that since the new work appeared yesterday, sales had increased not a whit.

“Amusing people is one thing! Selling is another!”

Yes, the Count Men conceded, one might argue that producing writings and artworks which people actually liked and admired could possibly have some effect on the appeal of the goods a Klient wished to sell.

“But how can you measure that? You can’t! You must only deal with what to the computer says is measurable!”

And so the client removed the likeable work of the Kraetives, and replaced it with pictures and writing suggested by the Count Men, which offered his product at half-price, in addition to coupons that could be redeemed for various goods in the village marketplace.

Unfortunately, the computer was a boon to many Kraetives, as well. No longer did they need to labor through midnight, fashioning glorious artwork and elegant typography to enhance their writings and messages. The computer could do this for them. In fact, by just punching a few buttons, a Kraetive could produce as many as a dozen different typefaces for a single writing.

The result was not readable, of course, but certainly more interesting looking.

Emboldened by their success, the Count Men journeyed to a distant place called Detroitland, where many Klients produced automobiles. There and in nearby villages lived a large and raucous sect called the “Salestribe,” who were on the verge of revolt because automobiles from across the Great Pacific Sea were becoming more popular than those from the Salestribe’s home.

“The computer can fix this!” the Count Men proclaimed. Turning to Mbaspeak, they proclaimed that,“The answer to the conversion of the showroom experience to sales actuality could be enhanced simply by patterning the message to the Targetaudience by utilizing the visual and verbal techniques employed by the successful competitive segment!”

“As the computer shows,” said the Count Men, lapsing back into the language of English, “successful automobiles from across the Great Pacific Sea universally display as their artwork a shiny indistinguishable vehicle speeding along a wet road, with no telephone poles in sight. As a message, they always offer a simple, pompous and totally unbelievable overstatement, often uttered by a voice from Londontown.”

(Neither the computer nor the Count Men mentioned that this was not only the technique employed by the popular automobiles from across the Great Pacific Sea, but already by most automobiles built by the Klients of Detroit.)

The Count Men did concede the possibility that the computer’s studies could result in all automobile writings and artwork -- whether from Detroit or across the Great Pacific Sea -- looking exactly alike.

“But that’s an advantage! All you need do is add an additional message! Tell the people that, unlike other Klients, you’ll pay them to buy your automobiles!”

Having ensured that all automobile artwork and writings would be identical, and that there would be no interference on the part of the Kraetives, the Count Men returned victorious to the village of Madison.

In their absence, employing two Searcher cults which were related the Count Men by marriage -- the Gallups, the Nielsons, and the McKinseys -- the Count Men of Madison had proved conclusively that truly dull and uninteresting scriptures and artwork could still succeed if the audience was simply forced to look at them often enough.

In Mbaspeak, this was called “Repetition.”

And so there was no need anymore for charm, or wit, or entertainment, or laughter or tears.

Instead, in addition to Repetition, the emotion now preferred by the computer, was Fear. And the Kraetives were instructed to shift the majority of their scriptures and artwork from warmth and humor to Worries about such things as cancerous prostates, acne, or loss of bone mass.

These writings suggested that if you didn’t use the Klients’ products, you’d likely die. And they further suggested, in a short and breathless comment at the end of the writings (called a “disclaimer”), that if you actually should use the product, you’ll probably die, as well.

So the airlines and the insurance companies and the banks and even stomach remedies such as Alka-Selzer, or beverages like Coca-Cola and even greeting card companies and giant fast food Klients -- having no assurance from the computer that marvelous scriptures and artworks would produce results -- simply quit purchasing any more scriptures and artworks, unless accompanied by a coupon, or a cheaper price.

The Klients, having discovered that the Count Men always agreed with whatever they said, even to the point of reducing their fees to a fraction of what they once had been, saw no reason to be involved in the writing and artwork anymore.

So they turned this responsibility over to Klientettes, large groups of younger people, schooled in Mbaspeak, who had no authority to say “yes” to anything -- certainly not to anything unusual, and especially not to anything that didn’t appear to promise a positive bleep in the next day’s sales.

The Count Men had returned to glory.

But the Kraetives were not much affected, because while all of these events were transpiring, there had grown an infinite number of new societies who would welcome the Kraetives’ talents and efforts – enterprises with strange new names like the internet, multi-media, cable, or MTV. And so there was no longer any need for the Kraetives to depend, for their employment, on the kingdom of Adz.

Thus they watched from a distance, while a gnome named Tivo invented a device that ensured that the people of the Golden Land could simply avoid scriptures that spoke of acne or premature death, or which showed endless artworks of indistinguishable automobiles driving down endless curves on endless shiny wet roads.

And so, as even the Searchers called Gallup, Nielson and McKinsey will acknowledge, the people of the Golden Land now no longer huddle around their magic boxes to hear the marvelous writings and see the extraordinary artwork of the Kraetives, because, now, such work only occasionally appears.

Today, a few skilled Kraetives may still be found in the village of Madison, but most are laboring in distant pockets of the Golden Land: Miami, Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, or Venice, California. Nevertheless, even there, they continue to carry the banners and teachings of the knights that preceded them -- who have, for the most part, wizened or died.

Yet the peoples of this Land still remember the scriptures and the artworks that once carried so many of the Klients to richness and success: the moment, for Coca-Cola, where Mean Joe Greene trades a young man his jersey for a Coke; the amusing platitudes of Frank Bartles; the discomfort of the guy from the Bronx who just can’t believe he “ate the whole thing.”

And the Kreatives – those who remain -- look forward to the time when the Klients will recognize that technology, especially the Computer, has ensured that most of the goods they proffer will no longer be, in any significant way, much different from one another. And they hope that the Klients may eventually realize that the real difference between one’s goods and another’s cannot be created from minor facts, or fear, or the charts of Count Men or the works of the Searchers, or the jargon of Mbaspeak.

Instead, they must rely on the Kraetives to once again produce messages that people will want to read and hear and see.

And only then will the people of the Golden Land huddle again around their magic boxes to welcome the thoughtful and amusing writings and artworks from the Kraetives, and then embrace the Klients who have brought those wonderful, warming words and pictures to them -- along with sympathy, insight, and understanding that has always been found in the very best works from the glorious kingdom of Adz.

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