They’re not social networks. They’re tribal networks.
The advent of social networks began, as their name implies, as a great big hug among friends. Announce baptisms, birthdays, betrothals, graduations, and promotions! Pass along gift ideas! Share all that lovely bonhomie with all your pals everywhere!
Yet none of us live in a purely friendly, social collective. We all know — and are probably related to — perfect idiots whose understanding and intelligence is and has been forever suspect. Those folks who account for eyerolls at holiday gatherings when they say something found to be accountably, obviously, and refutably stupid with a basic Google search. You know, people who don’t read. People who rely on Facebook for news. People who watch and listen to one network to tell them what’s going on in the world. Forgivable offences would they not affect the future of our democracy.
Of course, calling social networks “social” grants them a kindness that they don’t deserve. There’s nothing social, a term that implies conviviality and friendship, about these networks. They are, as time has shown, nothing more than gossip mongering among like-minded lovers and haters of whatever we love and hate. The social sharing we seek is invariably subject to the heartfelt cares of Aunt Martha who thinks we need to know about the Second Coming, Donald Trump’s twitter feed, and the easily-refuted fictions barked by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News. Martha means well but her sources are a bit suspect.
Imagine a network absolutely free of political discourse. An awful place to be sure, but one that doesn’t ask us to parade our politics or religion or sexuality for whatever reason people want to parade such things. It seems that the Internet has allowed us to return to our basest of instincts — to believe without facts, to accept without caution, to herd without thought, and to run off the cliff to our perdition and embrace the unwitting yet gleeful approach to the bottom of our worst selves.
(I know this expression too well and recognize that its only saving grace for me is its gut-wrenching hurrah for an unhappy baseball team in Cleveland whose fans have waited since 1948 for a World Series win. What can I say? It’s October and my Tribe is, as ever, in mourning.)
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
When Followers Are Fans or Sheep or Just Onlookers
The sheer numberof followers of Trump or Obama or Katy Perry has led me to wonder about the difference between sheep and followers. Trump’s Twitter account boasts some ridiculous number of “followers,” a number we are led to believe is an indication of his popularity. I wonder though. How many of those followers are just news junkies, reporters, pundits, and content aggregators searching for information or simply something to fill their content holes? And let's not forget all those foreign agents trying to worm they way into Trump's favor and always on the lookout for a juicy tweet to incite Trump's love. If nothing else, Trump has simplified news gathering. He’s a content gifting machine that never stops giving. Still, I imagine a fair number of Trump’s followers are the social equivalent of gawkers who slow down to see accidents or the crowds one invariably finds around dumpster fires and Confederate monument topplings. LikeChauncey Gardenerof Being There, some people just like to watch. And no one likes to watch more than Trump.
The number of Trump’s Twitter followers doesn’t necessarily indicate approval, and while some might be Trumpians, many are not. Twitter followers of politicians, unlike those of entertainers, might be politically aligned with the guy or gal they are “following” but a good number are just interested onlookers. People who follow Katy Perry actually like her for the mostpart, otherwise why bother? The same I suppose can be said of brand junkies, those crazy high school football players, for example, who come to believe that Nike or Adidas or Puma are the killer brand to wear and so veer towards college programs that sport the right logos. These are the tiny diehard band of brand followers one finds on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest with whom their respective marketers are swooning to have brand conversations — about what I can only imagine. Arch support? Hi-top or low? Velcro or laces? Mitigating shoe stink? Etc. And I’m quite sure with the right scholarship offer those footballers (perhaps at the behest of mom and dad) would find a way to sport that other guy’s logo. Money talks. Brands walk.
It's certain that Trump has politicized social media with lots of help from industrious troll farms in Moscowand Beijing or that 400-pound guywho Donald talks about. Of course, Bernie and Hillary and Obama relied on social media to share their beliefs and amp up support, turnout, and donations. All’s fair in love, politics, and hacking. Yet as we turn our personal social media into echo chambers, our ability to think cogently will continue to wither. And with no shared public square, a place where truth is actually truth (no matter what Rudy Giuliani thinks), the ability to have meaningful conversations about how to govern ourselves will disappear. We will return to our most basic of instincts to tar the other, mistake our foolish prejudices for facts, and surrender our better angels to the demons of division. Like sheep to the slaughter, many will go happily while some small few will look on, hoping for better days.
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
EPIC. DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?
Few days pass that I don’t see a ridiculous post like this:
There is nothing epic about this. At best it’s little more than a typical martial arts fight scene that shows some cool Audi technology. But epic? A little visit to dictionary.com gives this meaning of the word:
Adjective. Also epical.
Mediocre advertising and lazy writing in general has turned the term epic into a cheap expression that means “awesome shit” or whatever cliché one might dredge up to describe something that is generally ordinary. And when placed in a headline, it’s either a lie or what Huck Finn would call a “stretcher” at best. I wonder how many writers who seize on epic — struggling for that headline that will draw eyeballs and likes and reposts — even know who Homer was. If asked, the likely answer would be the dad in the Simpsons, not the blind poet who passed along Western literature’s greatest epic poem to humankind.
The Audi ad has no epic qualities. It will be forgotten by the end of the month. Maybe sooner. I am already having trouble recalling its particulars. And calling the martial arts mayhem in the ad epic isn’t even a stretcher, given the range of scenes that might compete for the title, Uma Thurman’s role in “Kill Bill” being an obvious example. And let’s not forget Bruce Lee.
Robbing the power of words to connote their true meaning makes all of us poorer.
When everything becomes epic or awesome or heroic, virtually nothing is. Awesome, like epic, in common use bears no relation to its meaning — that being, inspiring awe. Heroic long ago lost its heft from overuse.
The laundry of lazy writing and writers could fill a bajillion laundromats, which, if one knows the meaning of bajillion, is fairly likely since you can’t find laundromats as readily as we once could and whose steady disappearance from the landscape mirrors the likes of gas stations and phone booths. But bajillion is simply a term that denotes an extremely large number — and readers know that. Use it at your leisure to describe big numbers with some freedom, knowing that everyone knows you’re just talking about a lot of fucking stuff.
So, when might epic be used to reveal its true meaning? There might be some value in using it in writing about global warming or describing James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Other than that, writers ought to give it a rest. An epic rest, that being an impressively great and epically long one.
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
It takes a while and rooting around to figure out how to delete a Facebook account — which I have decided to do because I don't trust Mark Zuckerburg and Sheryl Sandberg farther than I can throw them. I will miss the simplicity of seeing what friends and family are up to, but they know where I live and what my street address, email address, and phone number are. Plus I have my own website where anyone can leave me notes — I'm at jhofmeister.com. So if it really matters, they can reach me (unlike knowing where my friends are having dinner tonight and at what restaurant — which they like sharing for reasons completely unknown to me, but hey, who am I to say what to share?).
Most interestingly, why does it take 14 days to permanently delete my account? It would take less time to have my house painted and my roof replaced. These are COMPUTER-BASED systems — you know, the kind where you press delete and shit goes away.
As to politics, Facebook is nothing more than an echo chamber for one's political beliefs. It doesn't invite thoughtfulness — only mindlessness. It exists mostly to let people sell me stuff. When I need things, I shop for them. If there's something I didn't realize I needed, how could this be a need in the first place? Businesses are forever trying to alert us to unknown needs. I'm happy to keep my unknown needs unknown, but thanks anyway.
In the end, deleting my account might actually foster my sending personal notes to real friends, that handful that I actually interact with on a regular basis. For all the extended circle of friends who won't see my posts or I theirs, accept my holiday, birthday, graduation, wedding, First Communion, Confirmation, and lost pet wishes and know that your LIKES in this regard would have been one larger had Mark Zuckerburg decided to let me opt-in as to whether I want to be sold stuff or have my data shared with anyone, anywhere. It's not that hard, Mark. There are algorithms and everything for stuff like that. Ask your coding team.
Someone out there is getting ready to launch a really low-cost subscription site that does what we want Facebook for and nothing more. I'd pay a buck or so a month for that. What about you? Multiply that by how many people use Facebook. Some savvy entrepreneur is waiting to make a ton of money. If you're the person who's ready to do this, please contact me so I can help with the marketing and advertising. Or at the very least, give me an in for your IPO. You're welcome!
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
There are lots of reasons to worry about the internet. The invasion of privacy. The trolling by Putin to influence elections. The echo chambers it builds for partisan politics.
But one thing's for sure, it's made it easier to comparison shop in all sorts of ways.
Recently during a snow storm, I was driving down an unplowed street, and hit something, whether a pothole or some debris (a brick or whatever). And bang! My tire pressure gauge came on immediately. Long story shortened: I would need to get a new rim for one of my wheels.
I had my car towed to a Goodyear shop to assess the damage. I was told I would need a new rim. The dealer price for a new rim was $489. The rim the Goodyear shop found was a "reconditioned" one that cost $360 something. So I go online and searched by car, year, model, rim and found one for $104. Holy smokes I thought. Could this rim be as good as the rims the dealer and repair guy have found?
All the reviews (it was an Amazon store) said the rims were just as good as the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) product. Several different companies offered knock-offs. I went for the one with free shipping. Rims are kind of heavy.
So I ordered the knock-off. It shows up in two days. I take it to the repair shop. They were nice about my wanting to supply my own parts (some aren't, since they make money on this stuff). I got my car back with new, virtually identical rim and drove home, having saved over $300.
So next time your repair shop tells you the replacement part will cost X, divide X by 4.
©2017 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved. So there!
That a copywriter loves words goes without saying. So, why say it? Every post needs a hitch, and that was mine. You see, while I love words, I’m especially fond of words that people use when they don’t know the word they’re looking for. English is full of idioms that the forgetful or simply ignorant use to name things they don’t know the name of. Among my favorites is whatchamacallit. In googling the expression, I found that Wikipedia went with the obvious, that being a candy bar that Hershey makes. And there’s a Chardonnay with the same name — a bit odd for a category that prides itself on erudite taste. But the expression is older than the confection and the Chardonnay. Webster’s dates the first known use of whatchamacallit to 1928 — the candy bar wouldn’t show up for another 50 years.
My mom and dad both used the expression, though I think my dad did more often as mom’s vocabulary was a bit larger. I use it, too. As I get older, I imagine I will use it more often since the names of common objects will elude me with growing frequency. Everyone knows those awkward moments when you want an allen wrench, three-prong adaptor, honing steel, or pinking shears but your memory slogs through the data banks so slowly you just ask for that whatchamacallit.
Whatchamacallit and its kin — thingamabob, thingamajig, doohickey, doodad, whatnot, gizmo, and widget — serve us well, saving us from admitting that we don’t know what we’re talking about, at least the name of thing we’re talking about. There are also spelling variations on these terms and some cross-pollination as in whatchamathing, whatchamathingy, whatchamajig, etc.
It seems to me that the premier term in this class of expressions is whatchamacallit since it can serve for any forgotten term. Widget and gizmo, on the other hand, generally allude to special function objects — and in the digital era — widget, in particular, refers to simple apps or strings of code, but it remains a generalized term for almost anything that’s produced in a factory or on an assembly line. Thingamabob and thingamajig are usually used to describe a tool or object needed to fix or complete a task. Doodad and doohickey are used when referring to a small object required to make something work as intended.
So, when you’re at a loss for words, remember there’s no shame in not knowing or not remembering. Shame attaches to not caring that you don’t know and not spending a moment to find out — the moment that finds you saying oh, so that’s what it’s called.
©2018 John Hofmeister. Originally published at jhofmeister.com/musings
Not a day goes by that I don’t see it’s or its used incorrectly. Usually, it’s is the culprit. Having fallen victim to the error myself, I began thinking about why it happens so often even among generally careful writers despite all the grammar checkers and proofing tools available to help us catch mistakes.
I’ve always been bedeviled by homonyms, mostly because I sound out things in my head as I read, so there, their, and they’re all sound alike. It’s the same with its and it’s. I take one for the other occasionally in drafts, but when I do my proofing, I think on pronouns and their curious pitfalls.
Take these two pronouns for example — she and he. To show possession, she becomes her and he becomes his. But then we have hers when we say something belongs to her: It’s hers. Yet, his doesn’t change at all — it’s his. We also have yours, ours, and its — all three indicate possession but don’t have the usual apostrophe S as regular nouns do: John’s, Ed’s, Nancy’s, etc. But depending on how they appear in a sentence, John’s or Ed’s or Nancy’s, might be contractions: John’s = John is, Ed’s = Ed is, and Nancy’s = Nancy is. But with pronouns, an apostrophe S is always a contraction and never indicates possession: he’s = he is, it’s = it is, she’s = she is.
Pronouns are outliers because several of them show possession by simply adding an S without the apostrophe like other nouns do: hers, ours, theirs, yours. So, we write it’s hers, it’s ours, it’s theirs — but with regular nouns we have it’s John’s, it’s Ed’s, it’s Nancy’s (it — whatever it is — belongs to John, Ed, or Nancy, respectively). But some pronouns do take an apostrophe S: one’s, anyone’s, and someone’s — as in One’s fingerprint is unique, It must be someone’s, It could be anyone’s. Yet, they can be contractions, too: Someone's got to do it = Someone has to do it. It’s the same for somebody and anybody. Frankly, it’s a pretty maddening bit of grammar.
So back to its and it’s. It is a pronoun, and when it wants to indicate possession, it doesn’t have an apostrophe S, it’s just its. It’s is always a contraction.
It’s easy to see why a non-native speaker trying to learn English would find this pronoun business random and nonsensical — and why native speakers fall for its when it should be it’s. The simple test when proofing is to sound out it’s as it is and see if your sentence makes sense. If it doesn’t, you want its.
©2017 John Hofmeister. Originally published at jhofmeister.com/musings.
Some years ago, one of my sons, having seen several black-and-white movies and the photos from my childhood, asked me if everything was in black and white when I was a boy. I smiled of course but recognized the logic of his question. One’s perceptions are shaped by experience, and his experience told him that the past was in black and white. Only the present was in living color. It’s why Spielberg chose to shoot Schindler’s List in black and white — his experience of the Holocaust came from either testimonial interviews or archival footage, all of which was free of color. Which brings me to the title of this post.
When I first stepped into the advertising freelance pool as a moonlighter, I was working in the marketing department at THE Ohio State University (the capitalized definite article is the subject of some derision and a future post I’m sure, so stay tuned). While moonlighting, I found myself creating ads for myself. Experienced copywriters and ad folks know that this can be a difficult and perhaps a vain exercise, suffering from both hubris and futility as the word “vain” so aptly captures. But for a young tyke, it was heaven. No restrictions! No approvals necessary! The sky’s the limit!
This led me to create an all-type ad (I was, of course, a copywriter with limited software skills at the time). It was an ad filled with puns, which was standard in the 1970s and early ’80s advertising. Pretty awful stuff. Unhappily, I didn’t keep a copy of it but it had something to do with slashing prices on big words, what Donald Trump calls the best words — and who claims there is no better word than “stupid.” He would know I guess. Ten dollar words are basically words no one ever uses in everyday speech and so will of course never appear in advertising or a Trump tweet. I remember one of the words in my ad was onomatopoeia, a real sizzler at 50% off. Another was portmanteau, which was now two for one (ha, ha!). You get the gist of this. Young and foolish, I thought everyone knew what I knew or at least wouldn’t admit to not knowing what I knew. But in advertising, readers who don’t get it aren’t readers. They’re turning the page or scrolling to the next story, etc.
This naïve but informative experience behind me, I began taking a particular interest in how ad agencies promoted themselves. Over time, I saw many examples of witty ads for agencies, but the only ones that signaled a given agency's value (i.e., its creativity) were related to open houses at their new digs, clever holiday wishes, or wry invitations to a local or national advertising awards show. That's because agencies worth their salt need only one testimonial: the work they do for their clients. When you visit an accomplished, sought-after shop, what you see on their walls is work done for their clients. When you visit other shops, you see handsome displays about themselves, their insights, their USP, their unmatched approach to discovering value, and tons of other proprietary baloney. They have unique processes, liberating creative briefs, POVs, and a wealth of blather that gives yadda yadda yadda its meaning.
When advertisers get pitched, they see this stuff with remorseless regularity. It’s an experience that always baffled me because the marketers I have met aren’t stupid. Maybe they nod off during the creative part of the pitch. But typically they don’t, mostly because the presenters are creatives and are often more entertaining than the suits. After an hour or so of PowerPoint slides, anything remotely creative feels like unregulated eye candy if not heroin. No slight on suits, which will become apparent shortly. That’s because when an account is awarded, all the agency's proprietary blather — rather than just showing the work and the sales increase the work delivered or showcasing work done on spec — is COMPLETELY beside the point. The agency rate, a history of compelling work, the speed of getting it done, the quality of the media placement, deep familiarity with the category, among other winning ingredients — all those things matter more. Not to mention that the head of marketing was in the same fraternity as the new business guy or whatever personal connection the players at large have. Outside of brain surgery or nuclear physics, what you know rarely trumps who you know.
In many ways, advertising is like any number of sports. The perennial winning team presents X strategy. The other teams adopt X strategy. The next winning team revolutionizes the game by introducing Y strategy. Being different is easy. Being different and winning is generally a crapshoot. Success comes from insight, brilliance, and courage — the very qualities that accompany failure almost as often. So, when it’s time to choose your agency, choose wisely. Sometimes the half-off shop might be what you need. And when the half-off shop has a Y strategy, it might be worth your while to go all in.
©2017 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved. First published at jhofmeister.com
I recently suspended my Facebook account upon reading more and more reports of its collusion, if not willing complicity, in undermining the 2016 election cycle, not to mention the unending sale of my interests, my online purchases, and my internet habits to the ad tech industry, an industry which now knows what we’re doing online and by extension what we do offline, which includes who you email, what shoes you are looking for, what news you’re reading, or app you’re playing while sitting in a stall at the airport vainly searching for some privacy — privacy which we freely surrender to ad tech without really knowing we are, mostly because the AGREE box we have to check to proceed to buy Q-Tips or use an online service, a box that comes at the end of 43 or so paragraphs of impenetrable copy in ALL TYPE is designed to overwhelm us and wear us down so we’ll just say, yeah, whatever, I just want to buy some Q-Tips already. But I digress.
Facebook is good for some things, mostly to keep track of what my family and friends are up to, however important, inane, incredible, or ridiculous. Aside from that, it’s little more than an echo chamber of shared belief and interests with few meaningful exchanges with colleagues or family members whose political predilections either frighten, terrify, or depress me. I, for example, post stories from the NYT, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, and Atlantic Magazine — my sources for news, a list that Steve Bannonwould call elitist/globalist swamp stewards and Trump just callsfake news. Of course, he calls any news fake that he doesn’t agree with. He’s proven himself a serial philanderer, habitual liar, andignorant narcissist. Yet he’s president, and we’re stuck with him until we’re not. I suppose a democracy always gets the leaders it deserves. The list of how Trump will leave office is relatively long, probably an indication of hope rather than likelihood. I got into several spats with friends and family about Facebook posts and have decided that arguing with beliefs is a useless undertaking. My reposts from the Times or Post are mostly reviewed by those who already believe their import.
The emerging science of how people will attach more securely to beliefs clearly proven to be based on falsehoods is still in its infancy. Consider the old saying: you have a right to your opinion but not to your facts. It’s futile to assume there is any set of agreed upon facts. Of course, it doesn’t require much insight to understand that belief is territory beyond the borders of fact simply because belief is the outright suppression of facts at worst or surrender to some higher purpose at best.
Take the belief system that came with being a Catholic born in 1952: the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension of Mary into Heaven, life after death. None of these things reside in proof or fact, only in belief. And for those who do believe in them, or in any other number of believers in the truths of Islamism, Mormonism, Hinduism, or Rastafarianism, to name but a few, I say well, if it’s working for you, making your life more fulfilling and death less alarming but not getting in the way of how I choose to live, which is without all these truths, I say go for it. Live and let live, with a decided emphasis on let live. Don’t ask me to make my decisions on your beliefs. Of course, there are some things which we all have to agree to: we shall not kill, abuse children, torture animals, or find pleasure in the suffering of sentient beings, and the like. The list is fairly short. The finer points of what we disagree about and why one’s beliefs wanders into to troublesome territory is what civil discourse, the legislative process, is really for. Abortion is a good example of this problem, being one that rests on fundamental belief versus fundamental right. However we resolve it, there will be a sizeable group of people who will be unhappy with the outcome.
And with this extended regression, I return to Facebook. I guess knowing what others believe based upon their posts is basically a healthy thing. It informs me of many people’s willingness to place belief before fact, to choose falsehood before demonstrable scientific truth, to assume one’s values are, or should be, universal, rather than particular and insular. This disparity accounts for the marvels and the horrors of the 20th Century — a time of astounding scientific and human progress that rode alongside an era of unmatched human violence, cruelty, and suffering. It’s what separates us from the beasts — a separation that will either move us forward as a species or consign us to the fate of the dinosaurs. Who’s to say? If Facebook is an indication, I find no solace there. Yet, maybe one post will find one soul ready to admit, hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Which is about all I can hope for.
©2017 John Hofmeister
I’m an old creative director and copywriter. Which in this business might mean I’m about 45, in my early 50s at the outside. But I’m older than that. So old in fact that I don’t get direct mail from AARP anymore. Probably because I’m a member. They’re pretty good at scrubbing their lists. I’m also old enough to have Medicare, which as a freelancer, makes the whole healthcare shopping nightmare a bit less onerous. So what kind of advice could I possibly have for young creative professionals?
It’s this: be kind to people as you ascend the ladder, get promoted, and make big money — because you never know who you will meet on your way down. And for many, if not most, there will be a down — or a way out or a way on to something else — where every kindness shown finds its way back to you.
The ad business is ridiculously unkind to seniors. There’s always someone coming up through the ranks who’s cooler, more with it, more tuned into the cultural zeitgeist than you are. It’s not that you stopped paying attention or that you aren’t tuned in. There’s nothing rational about kicking old creatives to the curb. Well, it isrational because it’s about money. That kid coming up the ladder is hungry and will do what you do for less — usually lots less. And in this business, like any business, it’s money that matters. The young turk’s ideas will have a certain je ne sais quoi about them — and in advertising it’s only natural to rush to the new, and new by definition is not old and it’s certainly not improved. It’s just novel. You’re in a business where no one knows why some things work and some things don’t. It’s subjective and generally a crapshoot. It’s like when clients ask for something that will go viral — as if anyone knows what the feck is going to go viral.
Being kind to people means taking some interest in their worries and fears, being honest with them about their talents and opportunities, and accepting them for what they are rather than what you want them to be. In my experience, people don’t change much. Time will sand their sharp edges — it just doesn’t remove them completely.
And finally, remember that sucking up has its advantages. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves, especially bosses. But saying nice things to colleagues and subordinates is really just a form of sucking up when no one’s looking — because it doesn’t get you much until you’re coming down the ladder, but it will get you something eventually if nothing other than admiration. Being liked is a gift that gives lots back over time. You might not race to the top, but you won’t plunge to the bottom. And even if you do, they’ll be commiserating souls looking out for you.
Hardly anyone will take this advice. If they do, it’s probably because doing these things is already part of their nature — or they acquire it slowly, well past its expiration date. They say that youth is wasted on the young. Advice generally shares the same fate.
©2017 John Hofmeister
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me.