Monday, February 05, 2007

Amateur Ads at the Super Bowl

Watching the Super Bowl 'just for the advertisements' has become somewhat of a tradition, and most companies traditionally use this to launch theior newest and greatest ad creation. Who, after all, can forget the classic 1984 Ridley Scott-directed ad introducing the Macintosh? This year introduced a new twist on the phenomenon- amateur-created advertisements. Several companies, from Frito-Lay (Doritos), to General Motors (Chevrolet), launched advertisements produced by non-professional advertisement makers. After watching the entire Super Bowl, in the main I thought the amateur ads stacked up pretty well against the professionals.

However, at least one member of the scribbling class was not happy about amateurs invading the professionals' turf. Writing for CBS News, Andrew Keen whined,
This is not good news. The shift from professionally produced to user-generated advertising makes us poorer in both economic and cultural terms. The arrival of user-created commercials at Super Bowl XLI represents the American Idolization of traditional entertainment — the degeneration of professional content into a "talent show" for amateurs.

Gee, Mr. Keen, are you afraid that people who are talented in more than just their own professions might push untalented hacks like yourself into actually having to do a real job? To me, this is suspiciously like the argument that 'if you didn't go to journalism school, you can't be a journalist, or, going back a few years, 'if you are not a member of the [insert union name here], you can't do [insert profession name here]. This argument is valid only in professions whose members need a professional certification. Engineering, law, medicine and other such vocations are professions where understandably, amateur practicioners are not and should not be welcome.

However, in the area of creative content creation, such as advertisement cration, music, journalism, opinion writing, creative writing, etc, there should be no bar. I am a professional musician, and have been for over twenty years. However, I know some supremely talented amateur musicians. A department chairman at a prestigious university, for example, is a talented jazz trumpet player. Just because he does it mainly for fun, should he not be allowed to entertain people with his talent? None of the Beatles went to music school. Should they have been denied permission to entertain? Additionally, what about people such as the Monty Python team? They graduated in professions that contained no relation to comedy or to acting, yet they have made some wonderful creations over the years. Should they too be denied permission because they did not attend acting school? Taking this argument (if such inanity can even be dignified buy that name), Keen writes:
Why is the work of the amateur of a lesser quality than professionally made content? There's the intrinsic talent of a lifelong professional, such as Ridley Scott, of course. Then there's the financial resources made available to the professional content creator. Back in 1984, Apple paid Chiat/Day $1.6 million to produce their Mac ad. Today, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the average professionally-produced 30-second spot costs $381,000. In contrast, wedding photographer Jarod Cicon, one of the five finalists in the Doritos competition, estimates that his 30-second ad cost $150 to produce.

This argument is easily dispatched. The "Intrinsic talen of a lifelong professional"??? Many famous writers, both past and present, were entirely self-trained. Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of 'Tarzan', wrote his first novel without any previous experience in writing of any kind. Robert Louis Stevenson was a student of engineering at Edinburgh Universioty. Should that lack have disqualified these two from writing, Mr. Keen? Much of the best commentary in current events comes from bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds. These are not professional journalists. Should they be disqualified from writing just because they did not graduate from Columbia School of Journalism?

As far as cost, reporters routinely rage against how much something costs (like gasoline), or how much a corporate executive gets paid (though these arguments somehow get forgotten when it is members of their own set who reap ridiculous sums of money- for example a Tom Cruise or a Katie Couric). If amateurs can make an advertisement for less, then by all means they should be so allowed. Or is Mr. Keen worried that if costs drop, the companies will be able to save more instead of fattening the coffers of companies like- CBS! In my opinion, competition is good for everyone.

To conclude, this entire argument simply does not hold water. Instead, it is a prime reason why creative content creation must not be limited to members of the 'elite media club'. Many reporters lack both knowledge and the ability to turn a coldly objetive eye to their subject, and essays such as Keen's show why journalism is not considered a demanding disipline- or even a real disipline at all, in this writer's opinion. Logic, research, and objectiviy too often seem to take a back seat to 'feelings', agenda and protecting privilege- the very things so many of them accuse accuse others of doing.

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