Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Media X: Past As Prologue

Media X: Past As Prologue
by Jack Feuer,

ON CHRISTMAS EVE, A 77-YEAR-OLD man in Des Moines went outside to fix his clogged septic tank. He reached in headfirst, got stuck and screamed for help. After an hour, his wife passed by the window, saw legs waving wildly from the hole, and called the cops.

The geezer was rescued unharmed. For me, though, the image of someone wedged upside down in a crapper, legs kicking helplessly in the air, is the perfect metaphor for the state of the media business in 2007.
A new era dawned in television ratings after years of yelling--and delivered complete chaos. Media agencies continued to respond to the enormous changes in their business by renaming and combining things, while doing almost nothing that made a difference. Marketers continued to treat their shops like the Taliban treats women, then complained that they couldn't get good work from anybody.

Broadcast television finished eating its own liver and began lunching on its lungs. Cable was, well, cable. The print media proved that zombies can't really run fast after all. And the former dot-com wunderkinds found a new scam in social-network sites and resumed their enthusiastic plundering of corporate coffers.

Wal-Mart discovered that there is such a thing as a too-much-change agent. A disgruntled gaijin shed some light on why Japanese ad agencies are so successful. The business bid adieu to one icon, Brand Donaton, which finally broke into show business. But it welcomed a new one, Brand Kadlec, which icily denied the big agencies a coveted planning account and awarded it to a cheeky-but-brilliant young upstart, and skewered beloved traditions like the upfront. In the "oops, I did it again" department, Hyundai launched a global media review for no goddamn good reason.

Through it all, the two ad trades, Dumb and Dumber, covered the industry with a confident lack of insight and accuracy that makes working for or reading either of them such a rewarding experience.

The best moment of last year, in fact, was toasting its death. But the more things change, you know. And it wasn't long before I found what could be next year's metaphor.

My son and his girlfriend spent New Year's Eve in the Big Easy. After filling up on alligator gumbo and Rolling Rock in the Vieux Carre, they took a stroll down Bourbon Street. There they came upon a crowd cheering on two drunken revelers who were beating the crap out of each other.

Suddenly, the cavalry arrived--literally. Up rode a police officer on horseback, who reached down, grabbed the main brawler by his shirt collar, and galloped into the New Orleans night.

Let me tell you, chers, if 2008 is anything like 2007, the image of a fool struggling in the iron grip of a powerful force carrying him off into darkness will return to haunt me, like a David Verklin speech, when it's time to write the year-end column again.

With or without another septic tank crisis.

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