Monday, September 17, 2012

The Death of Advertising

For the past century, we have been beneficiaries of the advertising model for financing the delivery of news and entertainment. We buy newspapers and magazines for far less than it costs to produce them, because of the subsidy of advertisers. and we listen to the radio and watch television “free,” because advertisers pay for the privilege of slipping in a commercial every few minutes.

The system is breaking down. Newspapers are dying everywhere. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a once-proud old paper, has decided that it can no longer afford daily publication. Most newspapers are running deeply in the red, and magazines, even hallowed journals like Time and Newsweek, are wafer-thin. The old Business Week, a once influential magazine under McGraw-Hill, is now called Bloomberg Business Week, and rigor mortis is obviously setting in.

Radio, until recently supported by drive-time advertising, now must compete with all sorts of mobile gadgets, including phones that let you talk hands-free to your wife or secretary through your car radio – or what was your car radio till you found a better use for it. On a 100-mile drive today, I listened to what used to be a source of good music. But today the station was playing endless help-wanted commercials for – people to sell air time on their station!

Most radio stations deserve to become extinct. Here in Kennebunkport, the one classical music station recently changed hands – and format. Now it plays music that is indistinguishable from the music every other station plays. It’s bad enough losing Beethoven and Stravinsky; now there is no place on the dial for Kern or Rodgers or Berlin or Porter or Gershwin. So stations will all compete for the vanishing teen-age dollar, and one by one they will all give up, until all is news and weather and traffic reports.

But, you may say, the TV channels are full of political ads, presumably at premium rates. But how many of these ads will you see in December or next year? You may also note that Google, Facebook, and other social media are raking in tons of money and that the advertising model isn’t dead; it has just changed hands. I wouldn’t be too sure. General Motors has expressed disappointment over returns from Facebook, and everybody I know (a small sample, I grant you) claims never to look at the ads on their iPad screens.

Humans still have only two eyes and one brain, and there are still only 24 hours in a day, minus time for working, sleeping, and eating. Shopping? You know what you want, you access it on Amazon or eBay, and you buy it. Click, click, and you’re done. Browsing is something you do on your computer, never at a store.

Some day people will watch reruns of Mad Men for their historical value. Yes, son, there were advertising people who made big money thinking up slogans and catchy jingles. We called their advertising “commercials,” and advertisers paid handsomely for the space or air time, because they wanted to reach millions of viewers or listeners or readers.

All that, of course, was before the Internet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Messages

From: President Obama

To: CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, all bankers, insurance providers, and millionaires and billionaires

I don’t like you. You make far too much money, and you got it by off-shoring jobs, by paying obscene amounts of money to lobbyists, by overcharging customers for your products, and by cheating. I can’t say this in public, because I need your money, but you know this is how I feel. When I win this election (and I will, because there aren’t enough of you to stop me), it will be payback time. I will go after the one percent of you who control too much of this country’s wealth. Now, some may argue that there will always be a top one percent, but at least they will be good people, unlike you and your ilk.

From: Mitt Romney

To: the leaders of Russia and China

I don’t like you. Your governments are riddled with corruption. You throw innocent protesters in jail without a trial. You brazenly conduct military exercises in Asia and excuse them on the flimsy argument that this is where you live. You (Russia) are our most significant geopolitical foe, and you (China) are a currency manipulator. When I win the election (and I will, because most Americans want a muscular foreign policy), on my first day in office I will brand China a currency manipulator. I will also encircle all of Asia with our aircraft carriers, and see how you like that.


President Obama’s message may play well in Venezuela or even in Sweden, but, like it or not, ours is a (relatively) capitalistic economy, and a president who believes that business leaders are the enemy may get elected, but he will never succeed in developing a prosperous economy. Businesses need cheerleaders in Washington, not hecklers. Obama bundles his heckling in soaring oratory, and he may well be sincere in his missionary zeal, but if he is, those who believe that a victorious Obama will pivot to the center may be in for a rude surprise.

As for Romney, Henry Kissinger’s philosophy of realpolitik says that in a tri-polar world, you never want to be one against two. Thus Nixon’s opening to China. So today, you should not needlessly provoke both Russia and China. Today’s Times has an interesting article (subhead: A Nation Rich in Land Strengthens Its Ties To One Rich in People) about the forces that unite these two Asian superpowers. Romney’s bellicose rants and his alliance with hawks like Dan Senor and John Bolton may pick up some yahoo votes, but they may foreshadow dangerous times should Romney and his warriors control Washington.