It was 2004. I was the quintessential “Damn the Man” kind of college kid who played guitar in a punk band and spent his weekends getting run off parking lots by cops, skateboard in hand, laughing at the sky.
So you can only imagine the thrill and excitement I felt when I first discovered Banksy, late to the game and not through his street art, but through this quote:
“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you…They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”
It was 2004. The Internet was well on its way, but Facebook was still battling it out with myspace for social supremacy, Twitter didn’t even exist yet, and the first iPhone was still a pencil sketch on the napkin of some geek’s desk at Apple.
Now, a decade later, we carry the Internet in our pockets and as of a few weeks ago, on our wrists. (Okay, I know Samsung released their watch awhile ago, but no.) A decade later, and I’m sitting at my desk in an ad agency reading articles about the Apple Watch and “intimate technology” and the Apple/U2 snafu and thinking about Banksy and wondering what it all means for me and you.
Let’s not assume too much.
We live in an incredible time as marketers. We can literally reach into someone’s pocket and deliver a completely custom advertising message. I read once that an advertiser was looking forward to the ability to geo-target ads, giving the example of a flower shop running an ad saying, “Guys, surprise her with flowers tonight,” that appeared on the smartphone of every male passing by their shop.
The recent Apple/U2 snafu happened because Apple subscribed to a similar train of thought. They assumed too much about what their users wanted from them. It was a calculated assumption, sure, to think that a majority of their user base would enjoy U2, and enjoy receiving their new album for free. People love getting things for free, right?
But the “You don’t know me!” backlash goes to show that Apple overstepped. Perhaps they thought it would be seen as benevolent, but people take their music seriously. You would expect the company who pioneered the iPod would understand and respect that.
And don’t get me wrong. There’s something to be said for the old idiom, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.” I like taking risks as much as the next ad guy. But there’s a difference between taking a creative risk and being presumptuous, between irreverence and disrespect.
The companies and advertisers who understand this fine line are the ones who will most endear audiences to them—in an age when brand loyalty is an ever-diminishing thing.
Is it any wonder that the fan base attracted by these brand messages would rebel against the notion of Apple essentially saying, “You are all the same enough for us to know that you will singularly like this album”? Is it any wonder that there would be backlash at Apple for using their wide-sweeping technology to push on us a musical preference?
Our devices are ours. We spend hours personalizing them—downloading the apps we want, arranging them so they’re easiest for us to use, deciding which songs we want to take up such precious and limited memory. We don’t want our preferences dictated to us by a corporation.
Apple either didn’t consider these things, or if they did, decided they didn’t care. They knew better what people wanted. At best, they’re out of touch with their people, and at worst, they themselves have become a Big Brother figure.
And don’t think I’m not talking to myself when I say, “Don’t stray from who you are.” I’m obviously a different person than I was when I first read that Banksy quote 10 years ago. Sometimes I have a crisis of faith as an advertiser. Sometimes I wonder if the me of 10 years ago would be proud of me now. Would that younger me be swayed by learning the ways in which advertising has helped move the world toward a better version of itself?
Obviously he would, because he was. Here I am. And here you are. Want to change the world together?