Yesterday, in my social circles, yet another article made the rounds about the demise of the advertising industry. This one particularly had to do with the industry’s bloat—and how out of step that bloat is in the pandemic age. It talked about giant changes happening to the industry—of scions of the industry like Wieden letting go over one in ten employees and how in aggregate, the industry will lose something on the order of 50,000 jobs or more.
I’m not much for articles about the demise of this or that. They’re always a good way to gain readership. Who doesn’t want to read about something either loved or hated going away, but they never build in any accountability.
So the 27-part expose on the death of Jell-o that McCall’s magazine ran in the Gelatin Gala of 1962 had no follow up and nothing else. There’s never an article that runs a year after the original one that says, “that wasn’t so bad,” or “oops, we fucked up,” or anything else.
These articles are the equivalent of the mouth-breathing that local TV stations do when they give storms names like “Sleetpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon.” They get people crazy. They rush out and buy milk. There are live remotes of cheap reporters wearing cheaper TV-station-branded windbreakers and standing near the spray of the nearest beach and talking about people hunkering down and seeking higher ground. There’s never a follow-up that says, “what went wrong with our reporting?”
So, the advertising industry, once again, is staring down the barrel of obsolescence and death. Just as so many industries have done before and will do again since the beginning of time.
Before we go on, an important distinction must be made.
Is the industry itself dying?
Or is what is dying the avarice, inequality, bloatedness and, yes, robbery of the holding company set up?
You could ask the same sort of question about any number of things. Is the airline industry dying or are their inefficient, mean and cattle-car propensities causing the entire industry pain? Is government no longer necessary or must we remake a government that has been wholly given over to inefficiency, graft, deceit and cruelty.
In other words, in this case, is there still a need for the fundamental need of the function but we need to reform or transform or deform the perversions that have taken over the dominant complacency or has the original purpose and need for advertising simply vanished?
I am no longer in the ad industry, but if somehow, magically, a major holding company called me and offered me a job reshaping the industry (assuming they could pony up more than $1250/day which they can’t seem to for creative talent) I’d gladly take the job.
Because I believe, still, that advertising has an important job to do. A job too important to be left to the current flock of pontificators, stylists, technocrats, consultants and blowhards.
First, we live in an age of solipsism. Truth, facts and belief have become variables, not constants. We must as an industry, get this back. We who create ads and communications for our clients must strive to be the “anti-Facebook.” We will not run hype, we will not propagate lies, we will not half-truth our way to whole deceits. We must retrieve, regenerate, re-invigorate and re-inforce network standards. We must reverse the ethical race to the bottom and start climbing again toward honesty—not transparency—which is bullshit—but honesty.
How can we hope to regain the trust of people if we are not trustworthy?
Second, we have to go back to Bernbach. We have to hunt out and discover simple human truths. We have to move away from decoration and mere style and once again find the real or the leveragable points of difference in what we sell. We have to believe that “there’s a 12-year-old mentality in our country—every six year old has one.” In other words, we have to believe in the intelligence of our viewer—and appeal to that intelligence.
And we have to encourage our clients to get back to basics, too. Hire salespeople in your stores, train them, pay them, retain them. Answer your phone. Honor your commitments. Provide useful information that’s easy to find, easy to use and easy to implement. Basically, become a Comcast customer or a Verizon customer and study their businesses practices. Then vow to never ever act like they do. With arrogance, unctuous smarm and bullshit.
Three, we have to believe in what we do. That the power of an interesting and human message delivered in an interesting and human way can make a small company large. It’s creativity that alone that can do this. It’s not found in a deck or an always on series of banal tweets or by chasing the latest digital shining object.
I believe in advertising not as a panacea and not absolutely. But I believe as David Ogilvy and his children believed 52 years ago when they posted this. When you have something to say, say it. Get it in front of people so they see it. Find ways to persuade them to act. And be consistent.
All that was writ by a non-MBA and a non-consultant.
That could be why it made sense.