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  • Bob Hoffman


In most fields of endeavor progress is achieved by the accretion of knowledge over time.

In medicine, for example, we learned of the germ theory of disease. Then we learned that germs were spread by dirty things like flies, mosquitoes, and sex. But it all started with the basic knowledge that diseases weren’t caused by frogs or witches, but by germs.

In aeronautics, the materials we use to make airplanes are completely

different from the ones used 100 years ago. But we still use the same

fundamental design of a fuselage and a pair of wings. The principles of

air travel are over 100 years old (sadly, so is the food) but the

principles are still being built on.

Copernicus taught us that the universe did not revolve around the Earth, but that the Earth revolved around the sun. Then we discovered that there were other bodies revolving around the sun. Then Newton

figured out the mechanism for all this -gravity. One discovery leads to another.

Advertising is different. We respect no history. We observe no principles. We have no connective tissue. Every generation tosses outwhat was learned before and declares it dead. Marketing is dead. The “big idea” is dead. Positioning is dead. Brands are dead. The funnel is dead. Traditional media are dead.

Every generation invents its own dreadful jargon that for a brief time passes for wisdom – likeonomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, empowerment.

The absence of verifiable principles is the dirty little secret behind why we engender so little respect in the business community. Well, that and Gary Vaynerchuk.

In most disciplines there are unifying principles. Some examples: Physics has the law of conservation of energy. Biology has natural selection. Economics has supply and demand. These are fundamental to the nature of the endeavor. In advertising, what are the proven unifying fundamental principles that we all accept? If there are any, I don’t know what they are. A field of endeavor without principles is not a discipline – it’s a free for all.

We used to believe that creativity was the essence of successful advertising. No so much anymore. We used to believe that big ideas were the backbone of outstanding advertising. Not so much anymore. We used to believe that an agency’s primary job was the delivery of

outstanding ads to its clients. Not today.

What do we believe in now? Likeonomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, and empowerment? These aren’t principles. These are the dreadful clichés of a tired industry.

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