There’s not much happening in adland these days other than massive layoffs and CEO’s giving earnings warnings. Who the hell wants to read about that? So today let’s ignore the unpleasant news and answer a question I get asked at least 5 times a week: Why is advertising so crappy?
Here are 5 reasons…
THE FIRST and perhaps most material reason advertising is crappy is that good advertising is very hard to create. Much harder than you think. There are very few people who can make excellent advertising on a consistent basis. I spent 40 years in the ad business and I created maybe 10 or 12 ads I think are really good. The rest were somewhere between okay and awful.
If you’re stuck at home in lockdown like I am, you’ve probably come to realize how many shitty TV shows, shitty movies, and shitty songs there are in the world. It’s not that people set out to create shitty things, they just turn out that way. Creating something excellent is amazingly hard.
The same is true of advertising. Nobody sets out to write bad ads, they just usually turn out that way. Talent is a rare and precious thing and contrary to pop-psych bullshit we are not all creative. In fact, hardly any of us are.
NEXT reason for ad crappiness is that ad agencies have lost confidence in the power of creativity. The advertising industry has devalued creativity in favor of technology, data, and other manifestations of business math. Sure, they still give lip service to creativity, but follow the money. For the past ten years agencies have been throwing lots of money at technology and data, but not at creative talent.
Publicis is a great example. They put tens of millions into a dumbass internal AI initiative called Marcel that looks to all the world like just another closed-loop social media whack-off. Imagine what they could have done for their business if they had taken the $20 million and hired an army of outstanding creative people instead?
THE THIRD crap enabler is the web. Let me explain.
In advertising, the tactical always drives out the strategic. The tactical, short-term nature of online advertising has taken precedence over the long-term, strategic belief in brand-building advertising.
The great Doc Searls says that advertising has two major lineages. The first lineage is the Madison Avenue style brand-building lineage that we associate with major brands like Coke and Nike. The second is the direct response lineage that we associate with what we used to call junk mail — ads with coupons, 800 numbers, and now “click here” buttons. The brand building lineage usually produces a higher level of advertising.
I think we expected online advertising to be part of the Madison Avenue/brand building lineage. It has not been. It has been a super-charged direct response factory — electronic junk mail. Sadly, the people trained in “clickonomics” are now running creative departments and have taken the online aesthetic to other forms of advertising.
FOURTH is the drift of talent away from ad agencies. Agency holding companies have become very large corporate entities with layers of obstacles between a good idea and the light of day.
Talented creative people have too many options these days to bother with the silliness of trying to convince corporate flat tires to understand what they’re trying to do. Consequently advertising has, in too many cases, become a last resort option for talented people. Furthermore, the ad industry’s unsavory complicity in the dangerous business of fraud and privacy abuse has turned off a lot of idealistic-minded young people.
It’s a double whammy. While young, talented creative people are less enthusiastic about entering advertising, experienced, proven creative people are being dumped by the busload. For more about this, read Prisoners Of Pop Culture here.
FIFTH reason is that the wrong people are making ad decisions. MBAs are taught to think logically. They are taught the logic of cause and effect. If I do A then B will happen. For most business activities cause and effect is the right way to think. Not advertising. Advertising doesn’t work in strictly logical ways.
It is the rare CMO, brand manager, or account manager who can understand and accept the baffling nature of ad effectiveness. Most are only comfortable with logical explanations. When the wrong people are making advertising decisions, the wrong advertising gets made.
All this is not to say that there aren’t brilliantly talented people in advertising or that wonderful advertising isn’t being made. There are and there is. But the ratio of good to crap is diminishing and it is a serious and deeply concerning issue.
Sadly, advertising has always been mostly an annoyance, but never so much as now. The amount of advertising we are subjected to is growing at an alarming rate and the quality of that advertising is steadily eroding. This is not a good thing.
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