Thursday, December 22, 2022

What is Advertising For?

This is not what advertising is for.

I am from a very old school, I'll admit.

An old and strict school.

The kind of school that still teaches Latin. The kind of school that believes that rote memorization has its place. That it's good for our social glue when people know things like, "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." It's good when people share knowledge and an ethos. That's how society is formed. And trust.

I say all this because I just had a cuppa with a friend of mine. A new friend. But because we are old souls and share a lot of background, something like an old friend. Before long, of course, our conversation turned to advertising. How it's changed since we each entered the business back in the 1980s.

One thing that's changed is commonality.

When I was starting out, the currency of the business, at least among creative people, were the big awards shows like the Art Directors' and the One Show. Oddly, at least from today's perspective, these shows awarded work that ran in real media and often that work had a material effect on the fortunes of a brand. 

That work was also a unifier of sorts. It became a standard to try to reach and a goal to shoot for. In fact, I would for the entire year collect ads I liked from every newspaper and magazine I could steal from the media department and store them in a large corrugated moving box. When the awards annuals came out, I'd compare my taste to that of the judges. It's one of the ways I trained myself.

But more important than matters of taste in advertising, there seemed to be consensus on what advertising is supposed to do. Not for agencies (we're agents--it's not supposed to be about us; our work is meant to help the companies that pay us) but for clients and brands.

I think we all--agencies and many clients--agreed to a few basic principles. These would apply whether you were selling newspapers on the corner or writing national TV spots.

1. For advertising to be effective, it must be seen. 
2. For advertising to be seen, you must spend money.
3. Advertising is the most-efficient way to tell people about your offering.
4. Advertising is more effective when it stands out and gets noticed. 
5. You can do that either by out-spending your competitors or by out-thinking them.
6. It takes time and repetition for advertising to have effect.
7. People are more likely to buy from you and work for you if you treat them with respect and kindness and regard them as intelligent.

Today, my friend and I wept into our black coffee. It doesn't seem like anyone holds to any of these notions. More and more brands and agencies seem content to do little more than run little ads on social media. Or they indulge in stunts like making mustard-flavored ice cream. Or they make ads about making ads. Or ads that culminate in ungainly people dancing.

This could be the view of an old guy, but I seldom ever see those ads. Partly because I don't care to. Worse, of the ones I do see, they seldom seem impactful, or persuasive. To my wallet, they don't create desire, differentiate or persuade. Some are actually gross and distasteful.

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company isn't in the mainstream of the advertising industry anymore, nor am I, thank goodness.

Clients come to me to help clarify who they are. I then help them express that defining thought in ways that are memorable, ownable and interesting. 

That's my job. In fact, for the 42 years I've been making a living typing for clients, that's what I've done.

And I'm proud of it. I do it for start-ups, companies that sell frozen pizzas and giant technology companies facing even more giant competitors. On occasion, I even work with agencies to help them figure things out, like what makes them different.

That's what advertising did for essentially its entire existence. I don't know why our reason for being changed, only that it has.

I wish more people talked about this.

Not mustard-flavored ice cream.

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