“More Content, Delivered Faster and Cheaper” Answers the Wrong Problem

The advertising agency business has been in one bind or another ever since the dawn of digital. Digital shook the industry to its core, and the reverberations are still being felt from top to bottom. The list of problems is long, but one problem we don’t spend enough time discussing is the problem of not knowing who or what we are, any longer. It’s a confusion that I find perplexing.

Read the full article on Adpulp.com: You Are Not A Machine. Resist!

Communications Arts is also promoting this piece on its Twitter page.

Since writing the article, another gusher of AI-positive news has flooded the system. Regarding WPP’s all-in bet on the technology, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang said, “The world’s industries, including the $700 billion digital advertising industry, are racing to realize the benefits of AI.”

And what might these benefits be? More content and better personalization delivered faster and cheaper—these are the discordant bells chiming in the ad industry’s glass towers today.

AI may be a powerful new way to make money, but AI at present is solving the wrong problem for brands. The right problem to solve is creating one powerful and universal message and a singular means of communicating it.

The Humanist In Our Midst

The Humanist In Our Midst

Do you know media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s work? It’s intensely human. He’s intensely human.

Allow me to transcribe a couple of key segments from this powerful TED Talk…

Human beings are the problem and technology is the solution. We can’t think that way anymore. We have to stop using technology to optimize human beings for the market and start optimizing technology for the human future.

And this:

Then came the Dot Com Boom and the digital future became stock futures…the future changed from this thing we create together in the present to something we bet on in some kind of a zero-sum winner takes all competition. And when things get that competitive about the future, humans are no longer valued for our creativity. No, now we’re just valued for our data. Because they can use the data to make predictions. Creativity, if anything, that creates noise. That makes it harder to predict. So, we ended up with a digital landscape that repressed creativity, that repressed novelty. It repressed what makes us most human. We ended up with social media. Does social media really connect people in new intersing ways? No. Social media is about using our data to predict our future behavior, or when necessary to influence our future behavior so we act more in accordace with our statistical profiles.

Rushkoff is deep. He’s so deep, you may need to adjust to his waters, which are not quite as warm as the tourist beaches you’re accustomed to visiting. I recommend doing this slowly. Go over and over his passages. Because Rushkoff’s deep is where sharks and whales and eels swim. A place of mystery and truth.

Rushkoff sounds alarmist and he is a bit alarmist, to his credit. He is fighting for what he believes in and he believes in you and me. He thinks we can unlock ourselves from the autocratic rule of screens and once again connect in real life, where our innate human ability to truly understand one another is present and accounted for.

I am on Rushkoff’s side. I believe in Team Human.

People can be weak, ugly, and disappointing. At the same time, people can be strong, inspired, and grateful. Sometimes the same person can be all of this all in one day. To get to our better selves and to remain there—open, grounded, and ready to serve the needs of others—we need strong reminders that help shake us loose from the digital doldrums and bad habits that hold us back. For me, and I hope for you, Rushkoff provides these strong reminders.


The person who runs the Communication Arts Twitter account likes to promote my writing. I am grateful. CA is the creative industry’s standard bearer, and each Tweet sent from @CommArts is seen by a segment of the magazine’s 81,300 followers.

It’s an honor when anyone pays attention to my writing. Given that it’s CA who follows my updates and helps to promote my thinking, I feel particularly grateful for the recognition.

In the Political Arena, Facts Are Like Fossils

When people stop believing in facts, and the mainstream media stops reporting facts, we are a lost people.

That’s a fact.

Cheri Jacobus, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and a Republican consultant, is advocating for a fact-based solution to the current state of factlessness in American media and politics.

Non-Trump media are routinely tripped up and slow to fact-check, opting instead to simply repeat the misinformation, acting as mere stenographers, or providing airtime to Trump mouthpieces. The public has to wait hours for the truth and wade through a myriad of outlets to get it. Democrats (and other anti-Trump voices) need to fight the daily Trump lies and distractions in the same type of venue and forum in real time. A daily fact-checking, anti-corruption briefing that follows the White House briefing or other Trump-related breaking news, akin to the opposition party’s response to a State of the Union address, is in order. A lean team of professional press secretaries backed by fact-checkers can provide a quick, real-time check on Trump and defenders like Sanders, Kellyanne Conway and Rep. Devin Nunes.

I like her idea to fact check Don Don all day every day, but it’s not enough. While it’s true that millions of people don’t know the facts, it’s also true they don’t want to know the facts. So, a fact-based narrative like the one HRC relied on isn’t a winning strategy against a comic book hero. To beat Don Don, the Dems need their own comic book hero, who is focused on an entirely different narrative.

In other words, you don’t let Don Don set the agenda, and you don’t bother addressing his lies. You move the conversation to a better place. Like Obama, you provide the kind of hopeful vision that moves people to vote. For the Democrats, you’d think hammering away at how corrupt the Republican Party has become under Trump would be a no-brainer, but it’s not that simple. When almost all politicians from both parties are owned outright by their corporate backers, it’s hard to stand on principle.

Instead of being the less corrupt of the two choices, the opposition party would be wise to paint a new picture for people. For instance, when you run on free healthcare and education for all citizens paid for by massive cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, there’s a clear difference available to the voter. It seems that many candidates want to please the middle, instead of sounding the alarm. I understand the desire for normalcy, but there’s nothing at all normal about America today.

Simple Hard Truths Wrapped in the Flag

As an American, it pains me to see our nation suffer the indignities that come daily with the loss of our democracy and weakening of our institutions. As a communications professional, it’s doubly painful to realize how a smart brand strategy would help lift the Democrats out of the hole we are all in. Right now, Democrats have a lot of high ground to claim, but they’re not currently occupying this messaging territory:

  • Democrats are the true patriots and defenders of American freedom
  • Democrats are, by far, the most successful business people
  • Democrats support women, senior citizens, and people of color

Aside from a tight messaging strategy, it’s high time for bold actions, so I was pleased to see Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley make his way to McAllen, Texas over the weekend to check on immigrant detainees at a federally-funded facility there. The shelter’s supervisor would not talk to Merkley other than to refer him to the Health and Human Services public affairs office in Washington, D.C. He was denied entry, which begs the question, who is more powerful—a mid-level Trump bureaucrat or a U.S. Senator from Oregon?

They turned Merkley away at the gate this time, but the story isn’t over. There are innocent and vulnerable children inside this makeshift prison, plus frightened young mothers and others fleeing persecution in Central America.

Who will speak for the downtrodden? Who in Congress or the media is righteous enough, brave enough, and smart enough to effectively battle at this level? Jeff Merkley from Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, and Kamala Harris from California are three Democratic Senators that come quickly to mind. One or more of these national leaders will likely be on the ticket in 2020. In the meantime, they can continue to tell the criminals in charge to go to hell and use the courts, denial of funding, and other Senatorial pressure to make this national embarrassment right.

Black Mirror Is The Clearest Mirror of All

Black Mirror, the Netflix series now in its fourth season, makes an indelible impression on the soft parts of the brain. Season 3, episode 1, in particular, is perfect TV programming for the Digital Age. Vox calls the “Nosedive” episode a social media nightmare dressed like a pastel daydream.

The episode imagines a world where Instagram-friendly perfection reigns, with disastrous consequences. The main character, Lacie, like everyone around her conducts herself according to the points system. When you manage to please people, your score goes higher. When you fail to please people your score falls. In this dystopia, your aggregate score isn’t just an ego boost, it determines access to services.

I highly recommend watching “Nosedive.” We are already captives of our screens and therefore we are controlled to a degree by our impulses and by corporate and political forces that are not always plainly evident. Digital media, like traditional media, can be a means for implementing a system of control. By owning a particular point of view—true or untrue—the media owner helps shapes the story and imparts meaning.

In a totalitarian state, the draconian nature of media’s role is even more dangerous. According to Wired, people in China are living the “Nosedive” reality, today:

In China, the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

Forget all about, “smile on your brother.” It’s time to report on your brother, sister, coworker, and neighbor.

How long before the American government wants to implement a social scoring system like China’s? Some would argue that we have it now thanks to Facebook. One thing is for sure, we do already have a credit score that determines what kind of car you drive and what kind of home you live in. Adding a social scoring system to existing points-based awards programs would allow good citizens to downgrade people like me, who point to societal problems and fixate on the solutions. What an ingenious and insidious way to further isolate dissidents, activists, artists, and intellectuals.

The man is no joke. But the man can be beaten. You’re in control of your screen time and how you use it. For some, it’s important to turn off location tracking, disable cookies, and keep privacy settings on Facebook or Instagram tight. For those who actively court a wider audience via digital channels, keeping privacy on lockdown isn’t as important. I’d argue that all users of digital media platforms can benefit from a periodic detox and digital media check-ups. If the way you use Facebook today makes you anxious or sad, delete your account. If you have to fend off trolls on Twitter, report them, block them, and keep doing what you need to do.

On an individual level, we can lift our heads up toward the sky and sun and moon. The default position with neck craned and eyes strained is embarrassingly poor form. Let’s ask more of ourselves and each other. Let’s look each other in the eye and speak honestly. It’s not too late and you’re not the only one who longs for phone calls from friends and family, instead of an email or text. Short bursts of writing are lazy. Step up and write a handwritten letter and send it in the mail. The receiver will be surprised and pleased that you took the time.

The Humanist In Our Midst

The Mixed Up Men Behind The Obfuscator In Chief

When I was 18 years old, I walked into the offices of The College Reporter in Lancaster, PA and soon thereafter my work as a reporter commenced.

My time as a college journalist was difficult but educational. The administration threatened to sue me and frat boys banned me from their parties and wanted to kick my ass. Their anger and outlandish behavior drove me to dig deeper and write better news stories. That’s how journalists operate. They seek the truth in the face of massive resistance and obstruction, no matter what. It can be a highly adversarial occupation—so much so that dozens of journalists are murdered each year.

The truth hurts. In fact, truth sears the flesh of fascists. According to The New York Times, senior liar to the president, Steve Bannon, gave the press a tongue-lashing this week:

“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States. That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”

This is the criticism of a savvy media manipulator who ran Breitbart, a hate site far right of Fox News, until Don officially added him to his team last summer.

Could it be that am I too far removed from the Heartland of my birth to now understand the dynamic at work in America? Am I humiliated, as Bannon claims? No, I am embarrassed for the country, a sentiment shared by media pros from coast to coast.

Steve Bannon holds his false staff in a sea of snakes. His divining rod is no good.

Many Americans are in the dark. At the same time, we are in the Age of Radical Transparency, which means it’s nearly impossible to hide the truth. For all the recent talk of fake news and how it threw the election, it’s important to realize that Bannon’s fakes are not at all convincing. MIT Media Lab professor, Ethan Zuckerman, reports:

Preliminary analysis conducted by the Media Cloud team at MIT and Harvard suggests that while fake news stories spread during the 2016 US election, they were hardly the most influential media in the dialog. In tracking 1.4 million news stories shared on Facebook from over 10,000 news sites, the most influential fake news site we found ranked 163rd in our list of most shared sources. Yes, fake news happens, but its impact and visibility comes mostly from mainstream news reporting about fake news.

Bannon has also gone on record as a Leninist who seeks to dismantle all American institutions. Will Bannon’s venomous lies topple the press and the way we govern in this “free country”? I am doubtful. The fact is Bannon’s lies that flow from Don’s mouth on a daily basis are mostly noise, and now that the press is calling a lie a lie, and getting their backbone back, the fight is on for real. “The Steve and Don Show” might be the greatest reality TV program ever made, but like all reality TV programs, it’s a highly produced show that can and will be cancelled.

In related news, last Christmas President Obama quietly signed into law the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Our enemies are using foreign propaganda and disinformation against us and our allies, and so far the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel,” Portman said.

Perhaps we need another law to protects us from the propaganda emanating from the White House and Republican “leaders” on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, I will rely on journalists to dig, learn and reveal on our behalf. We the people have our own role to play as readers who subscribe to our nation’s best newspapers and magazines, as citizen journalists, as neighbors, friends and colleagues. Lies do die out, but right now in America the lies must be killed.

The Magic of Don: How He Hides His Crimes Out In The Open

Did Donny the Dangler employ a brilliant communications strategy to win the White House? According to Roger L. Martin, a business professor at the University of Toronto, he did, and the sooner we understand how it works, the more effectively we can combat him.

What he was doing was creating with precise and relentless consistency an entirely new category in the minds of voters: the politically incorrect candidate. He has since monopolized that new category.

By creating the new category and playing his role to the max, the audience became riveted and eventually moved to support the anti-candidate. The logic Democrats tried to use that you would not hire a bus driver to fly a plane, ultimately wasn’t the kind of logic enough Americans were willing to buy. Is it because Americans are dumb-asses? It is all too easy to see it that way, but the good professor warns against it.

Clinton ran an exceedingly competent campaign, with lots of experienced managers, an abundance of planning, high levels of investment, and careful attention to best practices. However, the strategy was underwhelming. She sold customers what she desired them to want: a product that was compelling to her and her management team.

This is such an astute reading of the 2016 election. Russian hacking didn’t rob Hillary of the White House. She lost in a contest with rules that she didn’t fully understand. She kept insisting, as Democrats do, that better policies matter most. Of course, they do matter in the day-to-day reality of governing. But running for office is not governing. Running for office is a battle for attention, adoration, and ultimately long-term brand preference.

I don’t blame Hillary for not wanting to see herself as a product. No one wants to degrade their own humanity in order to win, except the demagogue who did just that to win. Lessons learned. Now what do we do to expedite the impeachment of the ass clown in charge? What strategy do we the people employ to fight the growth of fascism in our own land? Number one, STOP listening to what he says or Tweets. When literally every word he utters is calculated to distract, it’s time to turn away from the noise of Don and the talking heads altogether. Instead, we must watch what he does, and organize our resistance there. The longer we focus on his or anyone’s personality, the less room we make for the issues.

Don can talk shit all day and he does. Who cares? The issues that I care about are on the line: civil rights, gun control, healthcare, the environment, the economy, and the constant drumbeats of both terror and war. I don’t have time to hear what he or his minions have to say on matters. They are corrupt, anti-American and blind to the needs of our modern society. It’s good to understand the other side’s wants in any conflict, but what do you do once you comprehend that their wants are outrageous and dangerous? Do you listen and try to find common ground? Or do you go out and organize the people of this nation into an informed and motivated force for freedom?

The Humanist In Our Midst

Keep Following The Money

Democrats and other concerned Americans are now asking, “How did we fall this far this fast?” My counter is we didn’t all of a sudden arrive at the gates of kleptocracy. It’s been a slow drip of corporate and government malfeasance ever since Nixon lied about Vietnam, Watergate and everything else. Yet, it is true that we’ve never seen such blatant disregard for the rule of law by the executive branch of the federal government before, and it’s 12 days before Trumplethinskin takes the oath of office.

Let’s look at Don’s many ties to Russia—all financial. TIME last August published a piece that lays it out, plain as day:

It’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financial backing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows.

Now, The Wall St. Journal is reporting that Don’s businesses owe more than $1 billion to 150 different entities. This does NOT include “off the books” deals with Russian oligarchs. It could be that he owes them much more.

Don’s need for personal financial gain above all else, including country, is about to cost us all dearly. Putin owns this guy, and yet many on the right continue to support him, instead of the sitting POTUS and our intelligence officers. Political, economic, and cultural divisiveness has taken us to the edge of a new cliff.

As the nation teeters, and the media pundits scramble to decode another Tweet from Don, his team of political hacks are busy creating havoc and ascending to the highest offices in the land. One of the top hacks in the room is Jared Kushner, Don’s son-in-law, and fellow real estate rich guy. The New York Times just exposed his significant business dealings and conflicts of interest.

The Kushner family business has participated in roughly $7 billion in acquisitions in the last decade, many of them backed by opaque foreign money. In all, the company owns more than 20,000 apartments and approximately 14 million square feet of office space, including the building that houses the Midwest headquarters of AT&T and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

In what could be an interesting case of familial foreshadowing, Jared’s dad, Charles, was sentenced to two years in prison for tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations in 2005. Real estate in New York is a tough business. Developers are often short of the cash they need. Enter the Russian and Chinese investors who are flooding their freshly minted monies into the United States, particularly into real estate. They have been buying our land, our buildings, and our companies at an alarming pace for many years. Now they’re buying the federal government too, and we the people are left to watch the country get stripped for parts.

This is not about left and right, it’s about right and wrong. This is a brutal class war between global elites (not coastal elites) and everyone else. Look around you and see who owns what. Chinese investors are swarming all over the Portland real estate market, for one, and the market here is now hugely over-priced. It’s not just commercial real estate that they’re buying. According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, U.S. home sales to Chinese nationals totaled $27.3 billion last year. Our desire to make more money at all costs and support a lifestyle that can not be sustained is our great weakness as a nation.

Previously: Follow The Money

Don’t Get Trapped In Bad Media Habits

I gave myself the gift of digital detox and no TV news for Christmas. After one week, I feel better already.

Which begs the question, what am I doing with my head so far up the machine’s ass? Why are any of us willing victims to the manipulations of media? The obvious answer is we are human beings seeking information and connections via one of our many screens. The problem is we end up failing to enrich ourselves via this daily habit. We are degraded by an onslaught of bad news and Internet trolls. Consuming and sharing today’s crap news and toxic opinions mostly upsets and angers me. When I am angry I am no good to others, and only marginally good to myself. Anger is fuel, but fuel is explosive when left untreated.

We’ve left the information age behind. We are now in the disinformation age, and it ain’t pretty. Let’s use Tweets from Don as one example of the inane nature of today’s “news.” Why would I ever care what Don puts on Twitter? He uses the platform to bypass the press and to stoke his ego engine. There is no useful information in Don’s Tweet stream and no reason for anyone other than his sycophants to pay attention. Yet, what Don Tweets is fodder for the talking heads on TV. What a waste of airtime. If anyone does care about Don’s Tweets, they can simply visit his Twitter page.

As a member of the opposition, it is way too easy to obsess over political minutiae. Don does something wrong many times a day. Instead of reacting to all the slights and miscues, we can opt to skip past the daily distractions and focus on the big picture. The big picture means taking care of yourself, your family and friends, and your community first. Think of it like putting on your oxygen mask first, so you are able to assist others.

Media of all types seeks to evoke a reaction from its intended audience. To stay even and centered right now–a necessary state in order to help yourself and others–it is important to be aware of one’s media habits and behaviors. If you watch the news on TV and find yourself yelling at the screen, you have a common problem. If you find yourself inundated with trolls and haters, you have another all too common problem. Personally, I don’t want to give trolls an inch. I want to bash their puny little skulls together, but more violence isn’t going to help them learn anything new, and I will not be uplifted by the bashing.

We are being tested by an invisible teacher right now. Can we maintain grace and grow our compassion under intense pressure? I am confident we can, and that we can become stronger, better people in the process. One of the means to this important end is to clearly establish the proper media diet, moving forward. Each person has their own limits. One hour of TV news per night, for instance, is certainly better than three of four hours. Maybe your diet will include no TV news at all, and you will read (and subscribe to) only the best foreign and domestic press.

Digital Distortions of Epic Proportions

The commercial Internet has been “a thing” for just over two decades. It’s new technology with no official, or agreed upon, manual. Many people don’t know how to use this network of nodes; nor how it can be used to distract and mislead.

Media literacy is sorely needed in this country today, along with a much better sense of personal online security and an understanding of the cyber terrorism threats facing our society. So-called “black hat hackers” can attack many of our most important systems—banking, transportation, communications, even weapons systems—all brutal hacks that could cripple our economy and our ability to fight back.

Messing with our election is a more heinous crime than we realize, and we need to respond swiftly with punitive action. A show of digital force! It’s also high time that we more fully grasp why China, Russia, Iran and other states are working against us. We’ve been so focused on the terror threat from radical Islamists that the new arms race (for the world’s remaining natural resources, including water), that we’ve taken our eye off the global threats ball.

Don can pretend to “Make America Great Again” in his dreams. Meanwhile, strong actors on the global stage are licking their chops at how stupid, confused and vulnerable we appear to be at this juncture in time. Do you think leaders in China and Russia admire Don’s bluster or confuse it with strength? Don’t kid yourself. Don’s playing checkers while our enemies play chess.

To effectively guard against real harm, Americans of all political preferences better find a way to get on the same national security page, or things could get very bad before they get better. Don can skip all the intelligence briefings he wants. We the people can’t afford to be that willfully ignorant.

One idea to strengthen our digital defense is to make a greater investment in talent. The New York Daily News is suggesting a digital talent “draft.” The writer notes that brilliant techies go to work in corporate jobs for big money, which presents a recruiting obstacle for the federal government. How do we convince people to serve? I’m not sure we need a draft, although I like the option of public service for graduating high school students. At the rate we’re falling from grace and prominence, the need to serve is now self-evident.

Sadly, a blizzard of distractions is used by Don and his ilk to confuse and diffuse. Don will continue to Tweet nonsensical and insulting things and the media will continue to run with it as news, instead of explaining what these Tweets truly are—digital distractions purposefully placed there by an autocrat (obsessed by his Putin-like race for ill-gotten fortunes).

The longer we remain divided and dysfunctional, the weaker we become as a nation. We can get stronger as individuals by learning how media, including digital media, is being used against the interests of freedom. We can get stronger as a nation by removing blame for how this happened, and refocus now on how we save ourselves from disaster.

It won’t be a political effort that saves America. It will be a post-political coming to our senses. We live on one planet with limited resources that must be shared, or chaos and death reign. Lines between nations, between states, between parties, and between people are artificial constructs. There’s one planet, and one people living on it. For now.