April 13, 2010

A Sensitive Look Inside Madison Avenue


To: TMAJ Reader
From: Wendy McHale, Publisher
Re: Sense & Sensibility

I've been reviewing new media now for the last several years along with our editors and have been trying to balance how we should deal with covering pop-culture these days.

I'd like to bring this issue up to make a point.

From time to time, we imagine that keeping up with rapid changes on Madison Avenue today is as bizarre as the challenges media companies had moving from editing/reporting in the sanitary, Superman-safe 1950's on to the sex, drugs & "Rock-pocalypse Now" 1960's!

We expect you probably do too.


The question then and now is how one balances (as F. Scott Fitzgerald penned it,) our "ideas versus ideals?"

We live in an age where the media has seemingly has taken its gloves, clothes and skivvies (underwear) off in their money-thirsty quest to see who can out-do each other to, "Never underestimate the bad taste of the American public." One just has to look at network television, the news, pay-cable-radio-other and much of the content in various online communities. How many message boards are moderated? How many bloggers use the word "rant" when the real terminology is more like "going off on the deep end? It can boggle the mind. Forget about all the technology innovation. How about the content sleazeball-ization?

We live in a society where the largest portions of American households are inhabited by 1 person. Has isolation caused or effected research which media companies use to determine contemporary sensibilities?

Madison Avenue has always been that culture-maestro in society when it comes to how to handle delicate subjects. Some of us have lost that ability. Some of us never had it. And some of us have it in spades. Consolidation of the media business has brought a foxy Murdoch-ization that has created Howard Stern and worse. Even harsh behavior from elected officials brings a crass attitude from people who should ideally try to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

These are difficult times for taste-makers. We find now with YouTube and MySpace there's the opportunity for various marketers to run "beyond the pale" type-video on them reach young audiences because there is no legal screening they normally used to deal with when they tried to get a :30 spot accepted by the TV networks.

Even more bazaar, spots running on European media, where cultural mores are far more liberal can be seen by American audiences with relative ease. In fact, they are often brought to everyone's attention upfront, since they are the highest viewed and are put front and center for more viewers logging on to check it out.

To think that the "must be 16 or over" pseudo-screening that file-sharing and online communities have is a real barrier to underage accessibility to inflammatory content is a complete farce to assume that it really prevents anyone at any age from getting in. It doesn't take a Nobel prize winner in Mathematics to do the math to calculate what year is needed to be registered as over 16 or over 21.

Parents have told me that once they logged on to their daughters computer, they accidentally found that their attractive 14 year-old had her own site on MySpace and positioned herself quite provocatively as a 20 year old. The resulting "friends" linked to her site presented risks that their child had no idea of.

It's no surprise that youngsters lie about their age. This is timeless. however, new media today seems to ratchet up the consequences of this action, certainly more than getting phony proof to get into a club, or to buy cigarettes or to purchase a six-pack of beer.


Thousands of years ago, Aristotle complained about the erosion of standards due to the decadent behavior of the youth of his era. Young people will always challenge the sensibilities of their elders who prefer to forget their own naughty behavior years before.

The difference now as compared to then is that few people were complaining about the decadence of the media in their era as much as they do now, which was influencing youth of all ages and in all eras.

Advertising has become more about buzzing and spinning than about product information. As you know, the trick to doing your job successfully--of buzzing and spinning on behalf of your clients--to their consuming public--is to make it look like your client is "not" buzzing and spinning its consuming public, right?

How does one do that? With sensitivity. We'd like to know what you think sensitivity means today. Please write back, either identifying yourself or anonymously. We're happy to hear what you think either way.


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