A Brief Conversation About Advertising And The Future Of Everything


As anyone who lives in Edmonton knows, there is almost nowhere to eat downtown. And if you happen to discover, always too late, that one of your favourite places to eat happens to be closed until five when it reopens for dinner, and it’s, say, three-thirty, well, those are some dire circumstances indeed. I found myself in just such a predicament the other day. Hungry and alone, I stumbled through the streets of downtown, confronted with establishment after establishment offering food I wanted no part of. Finally I managed to find a loaf of artisan baked bread and thought I’d catch a bus home (no small feat there either, as any Edmonton resident will be happy to corroborate), and it was then that I was rescued by a phone call from my good friend Tyler, who is brave enough to rent an apartment right in the middle of this calamity of a downtown.

“Tyler. I’m hungry.”

“I know a place.”

Fifteen minutes later, we’re seated at a simple metal table in a nondescript Filipino restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown. The owner has overheard us talking with sad amazement about the high price of Oilers tickets, and has, in a rather unprecedented act of genuine kindness, gifted us two tickets to see Edmonton FC in response. There are maybe five people total in the restaurant, and two of them are in the back corner singing karaoke. I’m feeling grateful and invited and ready for hot food, which arrives promptly on a paper plate and tastes like everything I’ve been hoping for for the last hour.

Tyler works in marketing at MacEwan University.

“I’ve just come from the Arts campus, where I was shooting video for our website all day,” he begins. “It’s frustrating, though, because I never feel as though I’m getting the most out of the content.”

“What are you shooting with?”

“My iPad.”

“Tough.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think there’s any way to convince your bosses the value of hiring videographers or filmmakers to produce video content, even if it’s just for the website? I mean, everyone knows that if it’s not on YouTube, it’s not actually happening, right? And, potentially, the more slick the video, the more people are interested in that thing that’s happening.”

“I don’t think that’s an argument I can win at this point. Though the changes in media and marketing seem obvious to you and me, there’s still an established way of doing things that’s going to take time to deconstruct. I see everything I do right now as laying train tracks. Maybe I won’t see the full benefit of the changes that are happening, but the people who have my job after me will benefit from the strides I’m making. And I’ve made huge strides for our Faculty in my work with Facebook and social media. I have stats that show what you can do for the price of one antiquated radio ad through careful and inventive use of social media that are very impressive. But video is still sort of on the fence. Haven’t laid that track yet.”

“Well when that track is laid, let me know. Because I have a couple notions.”

“I’d love to have the chance to work on something like that together.”

The owner of the restaurant had hinted repeatedly that we should partake in his admittedly above-average karaoke facilities. I sang U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” just to sort of placate him and headed home after thanking Tyler for the meal, which he had purchased, and the conversation, which he had instigated.

The conversation with Tyler was emblematic of what I’ve been thinking about lately: the potential to do good, creative work within the realm of advertising, promotional material, and web content. There are tremendous opportunities here. I used to feel sort of chagrined at the notion of doing anything that might be considered “corporate.” But I think the “corporate” is becoming increasingly personal. I no longer think advertising works in a top-down way, where a centralized agency gets behind a loudspeaker (television and radio) and yells in people’s faces, competing to be the loudest voice in a cacophony of similar products. Social media has made everything a conversation. Advertising is now about engagement, about seeming like a real person trying to talk to other real people in real time. In that vein, I think that the video content companies and organizations create can appeal to people artistically. I think people like art. They like looking at a nice picture. They like watching something that is interesting or makes them laugh. As conventional (expensive) avenues of distribution like television and radio ads become less tenable and less important, we can take a fraction of the money used to purchase those ads and pay artists to create a piece that communicates the same information more uniquely and distribute the piece online. I’d like to think this could be a way for me and many others to make a living. People like Tyler are laying track all over the place; I’ll be ready and waiting to get in the driver’s seat of a few trains.

I should take a moment to say that my role model in the kind of tasteful, artful new method of marketing and communications I’m talking about here is my talented acquaintance Carmyn Joy Effa. I’ve always admired her photography, but recently I’ve come to really respect the way she seems to be navigating the waters of how to spin artistic talent into tasteful communications pieces that (hopefully) pay the bills. Here’s an example.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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