Vibe Shift to Destroy Marketing World
The Reign of the Hype Dad is Finally Over
Ask yourself: is marketing terrible because of what marketing is, or is it terrible because of who is making it?
Let me show you something.
Gatorade, Disney, DoorDash, Guinness, Subaru, Ford, Head and Shoulders: all goat-based ads in 2020-2022 (this isn’t even all of them). Why? Because the deep state of the marketing world—Hype Dads—are a bunch of hacks.
Let me explain.
In his now-famous piece Vibe Shift, genius trend-predictor Sean Monahan describes Hype Dads in the context of a coming cultural evolution.
The current vibe shift has been coming for quite some time. Working in Los Angeles me and my friend [REDACTED] would make jokes about the older creatives really trying to seem young and with it. We called them hype dads and speculated they may have been spending down Junior’s college fund to afford their conspicuous sneaker collections. They drove Audis or Beamers or maybe a Jeep Wrangler if they were the kind of hype dad who lived in Manhattan Beach and surfed. And they always—I stress always—paid the subscription fee for the yellow on black California license plates so their tags inevitably matched their cars.
I have worked for many such a hype dad. They’re usually tall. 50s. In possession of at least one expensive surfboard and one expensive bicycle, but unable to use either due to psychosomatic back problems. In college, they were the cute, quiet, scruffy artist guy from a nice family who you suspected maybe used to stutter. They have 120 IQs, pretty wives, nice cars and are, as Nixon described himself, “very political people.”
Because of this last characteristic, and because they grew up listening to Boomer music, Hype Dads are uniformly woke. This has been convenient for them. By failing to piss anyone off, they’ve grown to dominate the ad world over the span of two decades. Hype Dads now occupy CD and ECD positions at places like Deutsch, 72andSunny, Wieden Kennedy, and Chiat Day, where they make north of $500k a year. People outside our industry may be astounded to learn that the person who wrote “Nicely Nondairy” on that Starbucks sandwich board makes more than the President.
More than the salaries, though, the problem with Hype Dads is that they dictate the quality of branding, advertising, and marketing (BAM). And BAM is everywhere around us. For those who inherently hate it, this is not a big deal. But I believe we have a responsibility to do it well.
So why did Hype Dads crank out so many stupid goat campaigns? Because, just as the concepting phase of these campaigns began, the Hype Dads’ teenage kids were saying G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all Time) at the dinner table. Charged with breaking the internet, as they are with every brief these days, Hype Dads’ ears perked up at the urban-sounding pun, and so they brought it to meetings.
With a busy schedule of acupuncture, composting, weed gummies, and mainlining Pod Save America, Hype Dads don’t have time to actually use TikTok, the platform they yearn so badly to dominate. So they take what they can from their kids, who would never in a million years build an campaign around a goat pun. Hype Dad would know that if he bothered to actually listen to them.
Coinbase v. The Martin Agency
The good news is that the Vibe Shift is about to hit Hype Dads like a freight train. So what is the Vibe Shift?
Monahan describes it as trending away from “Hypebeast/Woke,” which defined culture from 2016-2020. He doesn’t specify what it’s a vibe shift to, but at the top of his list is Red Scare, the ultra-stylish anti-woke New York podcast hosted by former socialists Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova (who stars in Succession).
Monahan doesn’t need to say that the vibe is shifting away from the culture wars—that is to say rightward—because Vanity Fair and New York Magazine both say it for him. And look at his recent trend reports. It’s God God God cigarettes God Musk buys Twitter. In any case, when Vanity Fair is covering Curtis Yarvin’s love life, there’s simply no denying where we’re headed.
A rightward shift is absolute kryptonite for the Hype Dad, because the Hype Dad has hidden behind “Hypebeast/Woke” for almost a decade. Nike Kaepernick, Gillette Toxic Masculinity, Kendall Jenner Pepsi—these are the memorable hits from 2016-2020, and not because they’re good. Hype Dads learned that they didn’t need to have good ideas, they just needed make stuff about social justice and they would be adored for it. What do Hype Dads produce without woke? GOAT crap.
An example. If you’re not in the ad world, you probably saw or at least heard about Coinbase’s Super Bowl ad, the most interesting and impactful one in a long time. What you probably didn’t hear about was the controversy over how it came to be.
After the ad’s massive success—it drew 20 million visitors to the Coinbase site in 60 seconds—Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong tweeted thusly:
Some folks asked for details of how our super bowl ad came to be, here is the quick back story...initially an outside agency pitched us a bunch of standard super bowl ad ideas…I didn't like any of them (standard super bowl ads tend to be gimmicky, celebrity cameo driven, going for a laugh etc…so we went back and brainstormed, came up with a bunch of wild ideas..I guess if there is a lesson here it is that constraints breed creativity, and that as founders you can empower your team to break the rules on marketing because you're not trying to impress your peers at AdWeek or wherever. No ad agency would have done this ad.
Then came an unexpected reply tweet from the Martin Agency CEO Kristen Cavallo (The Martin Agency is a large, prominent agency, the “outside agency” Armstrong referred to in his tweet).
“It was actually inspired by presentations our agency showed your team on 8/18 (pages 19-24) and 10/7 (pages 11-18) with ad concepts for the Super Bowl with floating QR codes on a blank screen.”
Cavallo unloaded on Armstrong, claiming that both her agency and another agency had in fact contributed to the idea. This led to the expected Twitterstorm vilifying Armstrong as an evil crypto chauvinist, and portraying Cavallo as the takes-no-sh*t Girl Boss boldly standing up for unsung creatives.
Armstrong is known for mandating a politics-free workplace, and belongs in the category of anti-culture-war, pro-free-speech meritocrats like Elon Musk and Mark Andreessen, both of whom are openly anti-woke on Twitter. Cavallo is not a Hype Dad, but definitely a Hype Mom and member of the marketing deep state. She posts in support of the woke issues of the moment and about traveling to seven continents with her kids. Whether or not the idea for the Coinbase ad was actually stolen we don’t know, because she never shared the deck in question.
What a mix of emotions for an advertising creative like me! Schadenfreude at the Martin Agency being called out for mediocre work. Anger at an arrogant client purportedly stealing ideas. But mostly fascination. Woke powermom CEO in full speed collision with anti-woke crypto bro CEO. It was an unprecedented moment for the entrenched marketing class, and an absolute signal of things to come.
Death of a Salesman
Let me give you one more example. 72andSunny founder Glenn Cole is a reliable “current thing” poster. After the Will Smith slap, Cole cringe-posted about “normalizing love” instead of violence, with the very Hypebeast/Woke call to action “Let’s create dope things, not duels of honor.”
Cole was of course instantly mobbed, labeled a hypocrite, and accused of white male privilege. He apologized to “those he had hurt,” and promised to “seek perspective from Black and affected communities.”
This is what happens when a Hype Dad tries to do anything besides be woke or boring. Anything besides a prepackaged opinion—e.g. supporting BLM, vaccines, or Ukraine—and you’ll get tarred and feathered. Cole thinks apologizing won’t come at a cost, but it does. He’s frozen himself on the cultural pendulum just as it’s about to swing.
The point is: the vibe giveth, and the vibe taketh away.
The larger point, however, isn’t about wokeness, it’s about waste. Web3 tech bros like Armstrong aren’t anti-woke because they hate minorities—they’re anti-woke because wokeness is anti-capitalist. It prevents the best, most efficient system from winning. With Hype Dads at the helm, marketing has become bloated. Mediocrity has come to reign. A new class of meritocratic clients is starting to realize that.
There are experiential agencies, social agencies, strategy agencies, content agencies, diversity agencies, sustainability agencies, CSR agencies—and brands are somehow okay with paying all of them to do the same job. Most marketing people spend their days in useless Zoom brainstorms and feedback sessions, where everyone must “feel heard,” before a Hype Dad makes his inevitable out-of-touch decision.
I’ve witnessed rooms full of “marketing people,” all making well over $100,000, argue for 30 minutes over the placement of a single word. I’ve watched one creative bill eight hours a day to shop online for seven of them. I’ve seen strategists charge over $240,000 to create positioning decks that no one ever uses. I personally made a native ad—a single clickbait headline with a stock photo—that took 8 minutes of work and cost the client $8,000.
Why has the system gotten so fat? Ideas, colors, expressions, tones of voice, borrowed interest—soft skills. Only a tiny percentage of it has any impact, and we tell our clients that what we do can’t really be measured, so don’t even try. We’ve hacked the Pareto Principle. In most industries, 20% of people do 80% of the work. In marketing, 20% of the people do 80% of 20% of '“the work.” With that formula, I genuinely believe clients could pay 2/10 people for 16% of the billable work they currently pay for (outside of production), and would see no actual difference in outcome. The other 8 people and 84% of billable hours are pure grease.
All you need to achieve the best possible marketing is a small group of people with great taste and great ideas. We must be so elite in these qualities that brands can’t do it themselves. That’s all an agency should be. Coinbase learned this, and many more will learn it soon.
The advertising world is the only creative field in which, by default, creators get no intellectual property rights. This is why we charge so much upfront. Our inflated salaries make up for the fact that our clients can use our work to enrich themselves for years, even decades, to come, and we won’t see a dime. Good creatives learn early and often to abandon our ideas to the vast ocean, and let the currents do what they may. In exchange, we live very comfortably.
But if we’re allowed to stop having good ideas, we’re not worth it anymore. Hype Dads have been allowed to promulgate bad ideas for too long. They’ve paid no price for reductive, redundant, borrowed-interest ideas that don’t just look the same, but are often literally the same idea, a la goats.
That can’t last forever. The vibe shift is coming. Expect to be Thanosed.