Romance, Meet Marketing. And weep.
The action in New Zealand right this minute has little to do with a pandemic, and everything to do with a sickness.
At the moment these words are flowing onto the page, it’s the final day of the 2021 America’s Cup racing in Auckland.
By the time you read this, the America's Cup will belong to either New Zealand (again), or Italy.
You probably don’t care. Most people don’t.
If you’ve seen any of the footage on NBC or the interwebs, you know that it’s all speed, all black, all inscrutable.
When did yacht racing become a sport filled with crash helmets?
The Fabulous Honey Parker asks, "Where are the cup holders?"
Yes, this form of sailboat racing and the boats that race in it look a lot different today than they did in 1851.
Ah, the romance of sailing.
“I don’t like what America’s Cup has become. All the romance is gone!”
I’ve heard people say this. What happened to the romance?
Graceful sloops heeling over in the sun as the water does a diamond dappled sparkle in the waters off of Newport.
Strapping young men with suntans grinding winches. Loud, middle-aged men barking orders from the helm.
Smiling, suntanned women handing over trophies and bottles of frothing-over champagne.
Those were the days.
You know what?
Be not fooled. Like advertising, America’s Cup yacht racing has always been about money.
Romance has always been irrelevant.
Today’s space-age yachting war of technology and determination is a place where exotic materials meet systems engineering, and it’s all seasoned with towering black sails, crash helmets, and big-money corporate sponsorships.
It’s a great metaphor for the culture at large.
And yes, the ostensible romance of advertising is also gone.
The good ol’ days of advertising have sailed over the horizon.
We are left slogging through a morass of technology and terminology.
The 21st century digital culture has little to do with writing a message and everything to do with believing that the real message is the delivery system.
“If you’re not marketing on social media, you’re missing the boat!”
I saw a headline like that just this morning. It made me shake my head.
While advertising has never been about romance, it was always easier for the poets to be seen.
Writers were the visible heroes of advertising.
But at the end of the day, it was never about them, either. Advertising was (and will always be) about money.
It’s just that some romantics in the business think they can raise the bar and make people feel something less crass.
America’s Cup racing is the same way.
The first race in the 1800s was not the product of any romantic notions beyond making money.
A group of six New York millionaires formed a syndicate.
In case you were wondering, “syndicate” is not a word that has any romantic intent.
The millionaires in this syndicate formed it to build a technologically advanced yacht. The six titans of industry involved sat in their offices in New York while a professional crew sailed the yacht to England.
The millionaires later followed as first-class passengers aboard a very comfortable steamship.
Their mission was to win money in yacht races.
These men were gamblers, pure and simple.
It also didn’t work out in their favor. They failed in their mission.
But their effort spawned the multi-billion-dollar madness that now happens every few years in some part of the world not New York or Newport.
The days of white sails with no advertising and the pretense of gentlemanly sportsmanship are over.
Yes, the visual poetry and thematic fabrications are gone.
The game has become such a huge, technology-powered cash vacuum that it requires more sponsor dollars than anyone ever knew existed.
And at the end of the day, then as now, it’s still about people who want to make money.
It has just left any possibilities of sailing romance as we know it behind.
And so it is with advertising.
Sales messages are ubiquitous.
Maybe there’s no hope for bringing back the romance of America’s Cup yachting that never really existed.
There’s also probably no hope of bringing back the romance of the glory days of Madison Avenue, which also never really existed.
But it is possible to remember the one thing that never changes.
Romance is just one of many thematic components that inspire customers to buy.
Maybe romantics like us can push past the ignorance of media chauvinism and aim for the juicy center of the person to whom we’re selling.
Maybe then, we can all feel better about selling better by making people feel better about buying.
And we can all feel like we’re sailing on the wings of a more poetic day of gentle waves and sea breezes with nary a black sail in sight.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.