Dan Rather is now a magnet for criticism. He is pilloried by not just from those intent on shining a light on the ‘liberal media,’ but by those who want to advance the theory that the old order passeth.
Last week, too, another group was out there tossing rotten tomatoes at the New York advertising celebration of advertising icons such as Tony the Tiger and California Raisins. I don't agree with the argument that these milestones of advertising are best forgotten. The Michelin Man, the Energizer bunny, and even Smokey Bear did serve a purpose –maybe not the same purpose today, as they did a few decades ago. (Imagine how boring insurance advertising would be without the Aflac duck and the Geico reptile?)
Looking at the week’s events, the icons are not the most important –they simply grab the most media, because they can’t help generating PR like they were supposed to! The topics of Advertising Week included pressing issues such as “Barbarians at the remote” and “life without the Internet,” so it’s hard to complain that these Madison Avenue types are are a backward looking bunch.
Scott Donaton, in Advertising Age (Sept. 20, 2004) makes an important observation about the irony of the “march of icons’ in a city (NYC) that is hardly the center of the advertising universe today. He correctly calls the event a sort of self-congratulatory gesture of an industry needing to restore confidence in itself. But, hey, the 4As chairman Ken Kaess stated it as one of the week’s objectives! Of the 3 groups targeted by this event, the ad industry was on the top of his list. (for the record, the 'general public' was # 3 on the list!) This 'confidence' thing is not an American ad agency problem, for sure. I worked at JWT and O&M in Sri Lanka, and we battled with these issues almost fifteen years ago!
But I do agree, that there are other pressing issues. In the same issue of Ad Age, an editorial on P&G underscores the point about how the ad industry needs to get to grips with reality –the issue of ‘agency conflict.’ This obsession with the competition –competing agencies, that is—has more serious consequences than a fixation over Mr. Whipple.
To get back to the conenction between ad bashing and 'Rather'-bashing, the new thinking in journalism won’t come by banishing a 70-year old veteran. It will arrive when the networks face up to the reality that the Net has whetted people’s appetites for ‘just the news’ –that is news that is not fixated on the old ‘icons’ of journalism --sound-bites and toppling presidents.