Waiting For The Revolution

Will The Next Generation Of Marketers Lead Or Follow?

Bob Lefsetz is a nasty old fart who once worked in the music business and now writes a daily blog that bitterly rails against the old farts still working in the music business.  You may have never heard of him, but The Lefsetz Letter has a huge following in the industry.

He frequently talks about artists and their work, new and old, but the theme of his direct, crusty, take-no-prisoners rants is often focused on the music industry’s failure to see change coming and adapt to the times.

Lefsetz doesn’t seem to be a very likeable guy. He’s pissed off everyone from Gene Simmons to Kid Rock to Taylor Swift, whose song “Mean” is said to be about him.  Still, the guy is prolific – writing one or two long posts every day. And despite his acerbic personality, or maybe because of it, I really enjoy his work.

The vitriol was over the top in his recent Last Night post, even by Lefsetz standards.

He starts by saying, “We’re waiting for the older generation to die.”  Lamenting that he sees “no movement” in the music industry at present, “giant change (will come) within the decade. Because the old farts are gonna die.”

Hmm. Does a certain ex-music industry exec sound a little bitter? No matter. Lefsetz rightfully rants that nostalgia has resulted in self-induced alienation on the powers that be in the music industry. They keep talking about the good old days of free-form FM radio, concept albums, vinyl and CD’s. But it’s all irrelevant to the target market. The execs want the next Sgt. Pepper – the kids just want the hits.

“Castigating P2P is like trying to deny someone’s summer camp experience. Yes, Napster burgeoned in 2000. If you were computer-savvy then, let’s say you were nine, you’re now twenty-one. All you know is P2P and files.

Meanwhile, I know a famous manager who still doesn’t use a computer, to this day!

We’re in an era of gridlock. And what the last decade has taught us is to follow the audience. 

They’re leading. While we’re bickering about rights and the way it ought to be, they’re utilizing the new platforms and programs to slice and dice and acquire just what they want to. We don’t need to teach them, we need to follow them. Better yet, get in front of them.

But the old farts keep yelling for them to come back. It’s kind of like herding cats. Impossible. But they keep trying.”

“Herding cats.” That must sound familiar to anyone working in marketing with big organizations.  So much bureaucracy.  So little time, budget and empowerment.  Not to mention the challenge of all the “new platforms and programs to slice and dice and acquire just what they want to.”  For all the buzz about media agnosticism, digital platforms and mobile communications, it seems that marketing plans don’t even come close to recognizing how radically the lifestyles and media habits of people have changed as compared with even five or ten years ago.

But I’m not here to rail against the old farts, and I wonder if Lefsetz’s anger is misdirected here. We’d be foolish to look to the people nearing retirement age to revolutionize music or marketing. This is a crisis of passion – or the lack of it – among the young people who should be leading the revolution.

Has the world been in a bigger economic mess since the 1930’s? Wouldn’t this be precisely the right time to “question authority” and shake up the status quo? You’d think so, but perhaps if you’re 27 years-old, have $100K in student loans and you’re one of many qualified people competing for a limited number of good jobs, you’re thinking twice about making waves.

The pessimism and dissent caused by a regressive economy has replaced the aspiration for great success with the simple desire to “not screw up.”  Yes, staying employed in a ruthlessly competitive world is a responsible, noble objective. But setting one’s ultimate goal as “not making mistakes” is another matter.

We take comfort in process because substance is too threatening.  The perception is that “playing by the rules” is safe, but taking a strong stance will get you fired. So more and more, we’ve become a world full of people who know how the watch works but can’t tell time.

The young people I work are always apologizing for their bosses, implicitly or explicitly, with the usual excuses: “That’s not how the company works,” “We don’t have the budget” or “those decisions are made on a global basis.”

They surely know better. We all know better.

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