“I think being an ad guy doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?”

That was the rhetorical answer Steven Grasse gave in my recent interview with him for ThisMoment in Content Marketing, a video series I’m doing for ThisMoment. He went on to say equally as revealing things, adding, “I mean nobody looks at advertising … no one looks at outdoor, no one looks at print, no one looks at any of this stuff. At the same time, no one looks at your online content, either. Unless it’s created as true entertainment, I think it’s all invisible.”

Getting a chance to talk to Grasse about advertising is like getting a chance to talk to Eddie Van Halen about playing guitar. The man takes the craft to the level of art and has for years. While many won’t know the name, there’s a good chance they’ve seen the work.

Grasse is disruptive, which is a point of pride for me in my own work. That which gets attention is that which people remember, respect and keeps clients coming back. Grasse got so good at it his agency, Gyro Worldwide, became Quaker City Mercantile where their focus is marketing the brands they build, not that others bring to them. (Though they do take on the outside client from time to time.)

For the better part of the last 15 years, Quaker City has been building Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Rum, Narraganset Beer and other spirits. Each has its own look, feel and voice — something I call its “Brand Environment.” Hendrick’s is particularly appealing. Fast Company even talked recently about how the brand knows how to talk to hipsters. The brand has a very turn-of-the-20th-century, British apothecary feel and its stories are mixed with interesting characters, quirky stories and Monty Pyton-esque art. I dove more into their content over at Elasticity, if you’re interested.

But for Gasse to utter those words is significant. This is the “advertising is dead” meme coming from a known ad guy. Grasse created most of the ads for the R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco Company in the 1990s. Yep. He wasn’t just an ad guy … he was one of those ad guys. And he knows it.

Certainly, this isn’t the first time he has called out the ad industry. He seems to have a healthy disdain for anything frivolous. But it’s the laser crispness of his criticism that is so compelling.

Unless it is created as true entertainment, I think it’s all invisible.

In a sense, what he’s saying is that if your content isn’t strong enough to produce an emotional connection — a Holy Smokes! moment, if you will — then it’s not good enough.

That is exactly what Hendrick’s Gin does with its content. It’s weird. Quirky. Irreverent. Interesting. You can’t consume it and just shrug. You at least turn to someone and say, “Dude? WTF?” That’s an emotional response, too.

My advice has always been to create those Holy Smokes! moments with your content. Seems like those much smarter than me agree.

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