Advertising needs a little punk rock

I am frequently struck by the similarities between the techy element of advertising and the progessive (prog) rock music of the mid 1970s. Though not old enough to remember that period, i was always fascinated by historical accounts of the musical excesses of the time . This was truly the era of Spinal Tap. Rick Wakeman, keyboardist for Yes, once staged a lumbering King Arthur keyboard-based rock opera epic live, on ice! complete with ice skating characters in appropriate period attire. no one could see the show because of all the dry ice they pumped out. and then the real ice melted. it was a complete fiasco.

The famous spinal tap “stonehenge” stage prop misunderstanding actually happened to black sabbath. but in reverse! their stonehenge was way too big for the stage. not that sabbath were prog rock. they probably were low-maintenance compared the prog rockers with their 12 minute epics about elves and goblins.

now obviously i am generalizing here but this is my impression of how the new media “thought leaders” talk and how much it reminds me of the halcyon days of tight-fitting flared trousers.

Prog Rock was a case of losing the plot. The result of too much freedom. Too much indulgence. Not enough conflict to keep it sharp. Web 2.9 ad folks exhibit similar symptoms.

Another problem with prog rock, and with online, is that “anything goes”. if peter gabriel wanted one side of a genesis album to consist of just the tolling of a church bell, he probably would have gotten his way. and prog fans would have eaten it up. no limits man! don’t you try to impose your structures on me man! Skittles new website IS exciting and innovative! regardless of reality or your opinion of it old man.

there is a similar discouragement of analysis with respect to the internet and advertising. and i fear a lot of it is based on the fact that a lot of the “experts” haven’t actually done a whole heck of a lot of actually selling things on the internet. and so don’t really know what they’re talking about. and are understandably paranoid that they will be revealed as the charlatans that they are.

Prog rock was utopian. it lived in fantasy. both thematically and in terms of the bands’ lives. bombast and excess sold records. so that was encouraged.

A lot of online ad talk is similarly utopian…one day all products and companies will be amazing! why don’t the stupid marketers just hurry up and only invent stuff that’s amazing cool and awesome where the marketing is “baked in”? what’s the hold-up?

prog rock lacked humanity. it was inward-looking noodling. these guys weren’t trying to move you. you didn’t really matter. they committed the cardinal sin of rock and roll. they forgot to rock.

online new media ad chatter is similarly unconcerned with selling stuff. and so commits the cardinal sin of advertising. instead you’re supposed to be building community and surrendering control of your brand. or something like that.

Therefore, the logical next step then is a punk revolution where woolly thinking is replaced by short, sharp jolts.

22 responses to “Advertising needs a little punk rock

  1. Vinny, I’m not sure online “advertising” is similar to progressive rock in any way. One thing we should never ignore is that while progressive rock produced plenty of memorable bands, online advertising doesn’t seem to have any connections with memorability. You needn’t have gone back to the 70s, the real comparison is between contemporary trends: online advertising and indie music (which by the way, relies very much on the technological side of things, both production-wise and distribution-wise). I never understood what indie music wants, just like I never understood what online advertising is (–that’s why you often hear me saying it doesn’t even exist).
    Indie music is exactly what we need for the perfect comparison:
    – it combines everything with everything without a clear strategy
    – it encourages playing out of tune
    – nobody remembers last year’s bands

    And by the way, you mentioned Rick Wakeman.
    Well…, Vinny…, Wakeman really IS a talent, a music “monster”, if you prefer.
    But the online “experts” are a total mess, a complete failure.
    They remind me of this short dialogue from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie:
    “-Special skills in any field?
    -I look good in black.”

  2. anca i wasn’t referring to online advertising per se. more the chattering Web 2.0 ad crowd.

    i wasn’t disparaging the venerable rick wakeman btw. but prog rock was an example of losing sight of the big picture.

  3. Is there a real difference between the so-called online advertising and the web 2.0 mess? They are the same autistic, in my opinion — online advertising because… it doesn’t exist :) and web 2.0 because it’s wrongly used – it could be a great tool for very useful statistics, but the “experts” mistake eclipse glasses for sun glasses.

    But again, it’s more like indie music.

    You can’t compare web 2.0 with Pink Floyd’s last albums (that’s their progressive rock period). Or with Jethro Tull. Or King Crimson. Or Van der Graaf Generator. Or Rush, Electric Light Orchestra and even Mike Oldfield. Those guys were far from losing sight of the big picture, they created the big picture.

    (I’ve just remembered this: )

  4. Self-indulgence and self-belief are close but poles apart. Prog rock generally fell into the former, while New Wave fell into the latter. Punk was the anarchic, nihilistic bridge between the two. In the natural course of things, New Wave crossed into self-indulgence also.
    It is the way, in general. Do something ground-breaking, do it well. Then fall into the trap of believing in your own infallibility.
    This happens to most new trends as they gain acceptance and are taken up by others. Nothing like the adoration of thousands to mess up your thinking!
    Dan Sullivan calls it “The ceiling of complexity.” Success breeds so many complications that a total clear-out is needed. Hence punk, which was not going anywhere in it’s own right, but was vital at it’s time.
    The trick is to be the “New Wave” for as long as it lasts, when it comes! I agree Vinny, that online marketing is useless at present. The “chattering Web 2.0 crowd” are the same. But as history proves, the revolution will come somewhere, sometime. Be ready!

  5. brilliant analysis pat. better than my post. new wave it is!

  6. “Indie music is exactly what we need for the perfect comparison:
    – it combines everything with everything without a clear strategy
    – it encourages playing out of tune
    – nobody remembers last year’s bands”

    Not sure what you definition of ‘indie music’ you are using here, but indie (independent) is none of those things.

    Nor does it rely heavily on the technological side of things.

    It’s very nature was actually the opposite of this. It was minimal and easy to produce. As for what it wanted, it simply wanted to exist.

  7. “It was minimal and easy to produce ” …because it makes use of modern technology that everybody can use.

    “As for what it wanted, it simply wanted to exist.”
    …exactly! Even if the musicians were not really musicians, lacking talent.

  8. Am I the only one who can’t decide on a fork or a spoon when reading 99% of these band names?

  9. “Even if the musicians were not really musicians, lacking talent.”

    Yet some of the music (by indie bands) was beyond compare.

  10. “Yet some of the music (by indie bands) was beyond compare.”

    I’d say the percent is worth taking into consideration though…

  11. Aah but we’re surely just on a matter of taste now :)

  12. Memorability on the other hand has nothing to do with taste.

    Who’s going to remember Oneida, Parts & Labor, Deadbeat Darling, The White Mice or Neutral Milk Hotel?! Probably their families and friends. Or maybe I’m wrong, time will tell.

    All I know is that everybody has heard of Jethro Tull or Pink Floyd. Even the ones who don’t particularly like any of them.

  13. “All I know is that everybody has heard of Jethro Tull…”

    Of course, everyone has heard of the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and Chernobyl too… :-)

    **Insert 3 minute electric-flute solo here**

  14. MJ,



    you made a good point that not all prog rock was bad. very true. but it was the excesses of prog rock that fascinates me. prog rockers were decidedly not lacking in ambition and vision. i wasn’t trying to caricature them. they did a good job of doing that themselves. they were geeks!

  15. “they did a good job of doing that themselves. they were geeks!”

    Oh yes, Vinny, I have to completely agree on that :) – it’s what happens when you become too serious about not being serious.

  16. Very funny MJ, will smile all day at that one.

  17. Too much freedom?
    With all respect… fuck yourself

  18. wally, such was your terseness that i can’t tell what you mean. too much freedom musically? or too much freedom creatively in advertising? your telling me to fuck myself indicates extreme disagreement with at least one of these possibilities. it also indicates that you are somewhat pissed off. perhaps because you don’t have enough creative freedom wally?

    wally, if you don’t have creative freedom you will be miserable. my old boss used to say this and i’ve found it to be true. i’m paraphrasing…great creatives earn their own independence and freedom. brilliant creatives liberate others along with them. you see the point?

  19. I’m too young to catch the meaning of all the references in your post, ((ex. I’ve never heard of Jethro Tull)) but what I did catch was really fascinating.

    I honestly wish I could have been born with your generation so I could grow up with the music you all talk about.

    I’ve listened to a bit of it, but I’m lost as to who all the real talents were.

    I just know that today’s music falls insanely flat.

    I would love some suggestions?

  20. emma, thanks for the comment. like i said i missed the prog rock era ( jethro tull, yes etc) and was more a fan of what replaced it: punk. i heartily recommend THE NEW YORK DOLLS, IGGY AND THE STOOGES and THE MC5. these were the american punk bands that kicked it all off. they were and remain dangerous and true to the spirit of rock and roll – catharsis and release. vs. plodding introspection and self-absorption.

  21. I honestly wish some bands nowadays played just a middle of what those bands used to play in the 70… that was real music. If you can’t get it… so…. it’s your problem, not the problem of the bands, or their music
    Music in the present sucks man, it’s an objective fact.

    by the way punk was, is and always will be a piece of shit.

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