Self-Conscious Amateurism

Self-Conscious Amateurism

BMW has new television advertising, the first new spots from their new ad agency GSD&M. This article by Bob Garfield snipes it for being “terrible”. Interesting quote:

Self-consciousness is not only a warning sign of amateurs at work, it’s also a very good indicator of nothing much to say.

My first thought was uh-oh, since self-consciousness is totally me. But then I got a bit angry, because his ad review is tinged with a pointed negativism. You could also call it “constructive criticism” because he does make some good points, for example challenging if BMW is now the “company of ideas” as claimed, name three of them. But it’s the tone of the article that gets me; for all the constructive qualities of his critique, Garfield’s own article thinly echoes the very whininess he’s decrying. I should know, because I often whine in the same way. But I don’t try to hide it…perhaps one of the signs of an amateur?

Another paragraph that gets me is where he says the spot is “transparently inspired by the difficulty of getting a campaign sold”, “the frustration of advertising creatives who feel their own genius stifled by craven, clueless clients.” This may be the case, but it demonstrates the opposite of self-consciousness: a lack of awareness of how one’s own experiences can create an interpretation of debatable relevance. His insight is delivered without an explicit point either; is it that the possibility of ad execs whining about their own creative challenges through high-profile advertising is bad? Immoral? Lazy? Maybe all of the above, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly relevant, or even demonstrably true. Even if it’s an ad inspired in part by the ad pitch experience, does that someone devalue the message? There are two messages: “BMW is a Company of Ideas” is the surface message that Garfield says is not being supported. The second message, as I interpret it, is that “BMW believes as you do, in ideas and of possibilities that can be made real.” Every BMW becomes a manifestation of hope. Heck, advertising creatives probably ARE the target market for this ad…how many of them drive BMWs anyway? And for every up-and-coming executive climbing the corporate ladder, the message is just as relevant.

I don’t really know why that article set me off…I guess it was the tonal thing, the narrow interpretation, and an underlying assumption that amateur self-consciousness means “bad”. Evelyn Rodriguez illuminates the latter point in her inspiring post An Internet Fed Mostly by Amateurs is Fascinating.



As I reflect on this, I’m doing some of the things I’m ranting about: not being clear in my point. I just realized that there isn’t one…it’s more of a reaction/opinion. It’s rare that I have strong opinions on anything, so I am looking at this more closely now.

  • I can’t stand passive-aggressiveness. Probably because I used to be that way, and am hyper-sensitive to it now. Followup thought: LEARN TO RELAX :-) I’m not saying this article was passive-aggressive, but certainly I’ve conditioned myself to look more deeply. One recent insight is that for all the ability I have to look deeply at something, I don’t have the discipline/process that makes it effective.

  • I don’t know what is the purpose of Garfield’s column from the editorial perspective (unfortunately, the entire adage site is undergoing maintainance), but it does get people to think. A polarized opinion is far easier to react to than an evenly-balanced one, especially if you’re looking for some kind of response…perhaps this was by design.


p>Ok, I’m feeling better now, if not very exciting :-)


  1. Dean Johnson 14 years ago

    You shouldn’t dismiss passive-aggressiveness as being a bad thing. It’s a tool and adds to the palette with which you can conduct your affairs. Using an adversarial model of dealing with people, you have to consider your enemy and how to best deal with them. To stick with a single (or few) modes of operation makes you one-dimensional on the attack and very easily parried.

    Passive-aggressiveness is much like an emotion. Consider anger or rage. Not a good state to run around in, but they both have their places, albeit hopefully infrequently deployed.

    Don’t dismiss “bad” things as useless.


  2. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    That’s a good point about having multiple modes of operation, but that doesn’t make passive-aggression into a useful mode, nor does it make it particularly effective in a way that I consider useful. Not that I was saying it was bad or useless in the first place…I just personally want as little to do with it as possible.

    The distinction I would make is the difference between RECOGNIZING passive-agression and EMPLOYING it. Recognizing it: very powerful, there are multiple ways of handling it and turning it toward more positive direction. I suppose that one could even create a passive-aggressive approach that was effective, but at this point I don’t think this is the definition I had in mind.

    It’s certainly possible to have a non-confrontational, “soft” approach in communicating one’s desires to another…I suppose you could say that this is being “passive aggressive”. And it’s certainly possible to even say that passive-aggression has its place, just as much as lying and being two-faced does in terms of survival. Stealing can be said to extend one’s limited resources. Stabbing people in the back, so you can advance…that can be effective too. It’s just not one of my values…that’s really all I’m saying.

    But thanks for the lecture ;-)

  3. Dean Johnson 14 years ago

    Sorry, didn’t mean to lecture. Lying most certainly has its place, as does being two-faced. In the first case, consider the question “do these pants make me look fat?”. Its a no-win situation and a certain amount of lying will extend your projected lifespan, if you know what I mean. Two-faced can mean that you are nice and professional to the face of someone whom you would like to take a claw hammer to. Being entirely forthcoming to someone like that would only give them more power. Taking a claw hammer to them can have its own problems, despite any unmitigated delight you may derive from it.

    I deal with lots of people who active-aggressive (both parents, for instance), as well as passive-aggressive, so I need lots of tools to deal with them, hence not ruling out PA.

  4. Bo Jordan 14 years ago

    I know this isn’t exactly the point your’e conveying, but the first things this post reminded me of was that

    (1) I really dislike the latest round of Apple ads, as they seem very “high school” in being more intereted in attacking the concept of the PC, rather than simply touting their own excellent qualities… how easier to appear cool than to attack someone else?… and

    (2) how I have recently cited an example of how not to do number 1 was the long-running BMW ads, which consist of simple shots of muscular sports sedans, sounds of revving engines, and their “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan.  As a consumer I will want their product simply because it appears to my taste in high quality products.  sigh

  5. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Maybe this is where we differ. Straw arguments aside, If I have a client that’s being difficult in some way, I find it’s a lot easier to just lay out what my issues are with the project. Likewise, I expect the client to do the same. Most people are pretty reasonable, even the demanding ones. At the very least, you now have a position you can negotiate from, with hard expectations out in the open. You’re right, though…not everyone takes this well, and it only really works if you are the one with the POWER to negotiate. Doesn’t work so well if you have someone else negotiating on your behalf, or if the person you are negotiating with finds such scenarios uncomfortable and can’t deal with it. Which is probably why I prefer freelancing and meeting clients face-to-face as much as possible.

    On the lying thing: this may explain why I’m still single :-)

  6. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Bo: I’m not quite sure how to deal with those ads either. On the one hand, they’re quite well done, managing to toe the line between being “mean” and being funny. Then again, I find shows like “News Radio” funny :-)

    The portrayal of the Mac guy and Windows guy is interesting in that they are sort of buddies, in an “The Odd Couple” way. True, Apple’s picking the battles where the Mac can come out the winner by comparison. It doesn’t seem underhanded on untruthful, like Apple’s cough constant assertations that the PowerPC was just as fast if NOT FASTER as a PC-based system, right up to the point when they announced the new Intel Macs and Lo…they jumped in speed by a minimum factor of 2.

    Boy, I am grouchy today :-)

  7. Dean Johnson 14 years ago

    Bo, the problem is that the mud-slinging works and certainly gives them fodder for fun. Like political campaigns, everybody wants to keep it high-brow, but always end up slinging mud or other substances of the same consistency. Those ads register at a very base level that doesn’t extend up anywhere near the logical realm. Apple products are never the cheapest, but they are the ones many people have primal desires over.