Bob Garfield has spent most of his professional career in and among the makers of what is now mostly called “Old Media.” TV shows, magazines, television commercials, and advertising.
So when The Mad Prophet of Madison Avenue wandered the halls of what is clearly the centre of the New Media universe — the South By Southwest Conference — one might expect him to be a bit out of his element.
Bob Garfield has fans. They corner him on street corners late at night: “You changed my LIFE, man,” says one young hipster. Garfield looks bemused. “After I heard you talk, I quit my job.”
“Oh, hmm… great,” Garfield mumbles.
To grey-haired ad execs, wide-eyed media planners, and even furry blue children’s characters, Garfield is the man who told the truth, and said: advertising’s ’emperor’ had no clothes. His front page article in Advertising Age was titled “The Chaos Scenario” and promised a decade of pain for advertising and media.
How’s that turning out?
“There’s stained underwear right up and down Madison Avenue” he says with a rueful grin. He explains just what’s wrong with conventional advertising: “Brands have hitherto been able to dictate their entire stories. They’ve been able to craft it from beginning to end and put it on your television machine. What they’re scared about is that they don’t have control of their own stories. And they have no control over what is being said about them.”
No longer can advertisers control, which leaves them little they can do except aggregate and organise. “They want more than curation. But curation’s the best they can hope for,” says Garfield.
Weeding. Seeding. Media Curation Requires Cultivation
And as he sees it, it’s not just brands that must curate — media outlets will need to as well.
“In the traditional media there’s curation or editorial judgment brought to bear at every stage of the process. First there’s discussion of the story ideas, then the stories come in and they are edited and then comes the question whether they will run, and there comes the question of where in the publication they will be placed, and so on, so. There’s like seven, eight, even nine different steps along the line.”
So, if traditional media has paid arms and legs, what about what’s next?
“When the old media collapses what will go along with it is the ability to have highly paid, highly trained staffed people to do that sort of thing. So you have to rely on the sense of the community, maybe even the sense of some algorithm before human hands ever touch whatever the content may be.”
You can see why Bob is so popular with the Old Media crowd.
But, fear not, he’s got a prescription: Listenomics.
“Listenomics is what marketers, media and all institutions that hitherto had dictated from the top down, whether it’s the US government, the Republican Party, the Vatican, Proctor and Gamble, whatever it is, to the art and science of learning to shut up and pay attention to what is being said among your various constituencies. Who must, in this new world, cease to be customer numbers, voters, readers, viewers, eyeballs, the anonymous hoi polloi, but have to be regarded for how they regard themselves which is real stakeholders in whatever your institution happens to be. They’re collaborators, they’re participants, they’re members of the community.”
Can this ‘Garden’ Grow? Is Community Sustainable?
In Bob-speak, consumers become partners, even owners of your brand. Yikes!
What should brands do? Brands have to “shut up and listen because they’re not listening to you anymore, they’re listening to one another talk about you. “
Is this a better world? Or a worse world?
“It’s a different world. It’s not as efficient as the mass media world where you had something to say, you had the trucks full of gross rating points backed up to your loading dock and you just sent your ads out there. It’s much more tedious. You got to get on your knees and cultivate the garden. And it is endless, painstaking seeding and weeding and feeding. But if you do that it’s sustainable in a way that the old model never was and in the long run far more productive.”
Moore’s Law of Content = Garfield’s Laws of Curation.
“Moore’s law will influence the amount of content that is out there. And so that’s not going to change. The question is all right, so it’s all out there, by what mechanism does the cream rise to the top?” asks Garfield.
He says: the secret ingredient is people.
“In order to collect the best content and put it together; to aggregate it into one place. There’s still millions of pieces of content… someone’s got to figure out what’s best. That’s what curators are – they bring their judgment, and experience and taste to bear on the question of what you and I should look at next. And we cannot survive without them.”
Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web video startup. He has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV.
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