Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cellphones are the new cigarettes – redux (Cellphones are the new TV)

Had to add a little something to an earlier post.  Was watching Ken Auletta on C. Rose the other night discussing his experiences at the Google Campus for an article he wrote for the New Yorker (?).   The topic quickly shifted to cellphones and the big question was – Will advertising work on cellphones?    My answer is another question – WHEN will advertising work on cellphones?  Certainly the producers and advertisers will find a way.  Television was and remains the greatest accomplishment for the advertising industry – in fact it really created the ad industry as we know it (and vice versa).  Nothing has both as broad and intimate a reach as TV.  Of course by now television has become an advertising medium that uses entertainment/news content to attract viewers to those ads. 


I recently saw Aaron Sorkin’s new play about the development of televison, “The Farnsworth Invention”.  It was funny how opposed to advertising David Sarnoff, first CEO of GE and NBC was.  Then it quickly became the lay of the land, he changed his tune and ad profits now define the medium to this day.   TV time is structured to accommodate advertising – it’s  line line joke, line line joke, commercial, rinse repeat.  This rhythm has been imprinted in our heads for the last fifty years.  No wonder the quality of programming has suffered, and no wonder the Writer’s Guild strike has gained so little traction.  Talent seems to be less ands less of a factor in creating content.  People are content with “reality” shows and contestants are more than happy to humiliate themselves for that Warholian quarter of an hour of notoriety.  Many networks have actually benefited form the strike and the absence of expensive writer’s salaries.


There is already downloadable content for cellphones - and where there is content there is advertising.  I don’t know, if you can’t last twenty minutes on the subway without a repeat of “Everyone Loves Raymond” then you have a bigger problem than boredom.  Now you’re going to have a Campbell’s Soup ad in your pocket?  Will you be able to call your mother without being offered a stick of gum, a laxative, a fixed rate mortgage?  Will all this affect our attitudes towards communicating with one another – just as it has affected our attitudes towards story telling and towards journalism?


Here’s the irony – the best show on TV nowadays is Mad Men, the hour long drama that focuses on Madison Avenue’s golden moment in the late 1950’s when tobacco was king.  There are still no cigarette ads on TV but everyone still smokes, and if you don’t smoke you are still on the corner, checking your phone to see who’s there.  Maybe it’s not your mother.  Maybe its Coca Cola, Taco Bell or Chevrolet….Soon it will be.


Call your mother though, she worries.

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