When I tell people I work in advertising, I get a variety of responses.
That’s cool! Have you done anything I would’ve seen? I like the ‘bugger’ ad, did you do that one? Do you get free stuff?
Some neutral, or disinterested:
Oh. Good for you. I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch? Did I put the alarm on when I left the house this morning? Hmm…
And some people get downright angry:
People like you are what’s wrong with this country. You’re poisoning the minds of our children. Your profession is evil and you are a horrible person for doing it. I HATE YOU EVEN THOUGH I JUST MET YOU!
There are other fields that attract the same variety of responses, but not many. I suppose that the occasional hatred and viciousness I’ve experienced confused me the most. Is what I do really that bad? I think it’s worth exploring.
There’s a lot of good done by my industry. Believe it or not advertising, or more specifically the widespread communication of free trade, drives the world’s economy. It drives healthy competition, keeps companies honest and builds a country’s overall value on the world stage.
Advertising entertains and innovates. It comes up with new ways to make our lives easier. It brings awareness to the causes most in need. It creates the financial freedom to produce amazing stories and world class entertainment.
It acts as a mirror for the social zeitgeist, showing trends in life, comedy, popular vernacular, art and fashion. It picks up on trends, sometimes even creates them.
Advertising can be, when properly applied, a force for good in the world.
I may be biased, but I can be realistic. I know there’s bad parts of the industry I love.
Here’s what I can come up with.
Advertising can be invasive, pushy and incredibly irritating. It is everywhere and it’s very difficult to escape. It often promotes products or services dishonestly, spinning, manipulating or even completely disregarding the truth for the sake of profit.
It can be very manipulative. An example being the “ethenol is bad for your car” campaign from a few years ago. Or the worst case in recent history; Hitler’s propaganda campaign against the Jewish population in WW2.
Advertising can be, when improperly or negatively applied, a force for evil and bad in the world.
What’s the difference?
The advertising industry, which encompasses the media channels, ideas and executions we call ads, is merely a tool. A tool is neutral.. It is how it’s used that makes it good or bad.
A hammer can be used to build a schoolhouse in Africa to give impoverished children a proper education. It can also be used by an abusive husband to threaten or injure his wife.
Do you blame the hammer for three broken fingers? No.
Do you praise the hammer for the brand new schoolhouse? No.
A simplistic view to take? Perhaps. But it makes you think.
Advertising isn’t good or evil by nature. Any inherent value it has comes directly from those who use it. Some are honest, some are not.
Advertising rose from a simple need. A need to communicate value.
Farmer Joe had wheat from his recent harvest he needed to sell, to feed his family and pay the bank. Mr. Kellogg needed wheat to make the cereal he wanted to sell for people’s breakfasts, so he could grow his company and employ more people. Advertising helped them find each other and the country benefited by having a variety of delicious breakfast cereals to start their day.
The best ads do this in a way that leaves you feeling better for having seen them. The worst ones leave you frustrated, pissed off or worst of all, neutral. You don’t care, you won’t buy the product and in some cases you may actively avoid it, simply because of the ads.
The future of advertising
Society is getting harder and harder to reach with conventional advertising. It’s no longer enough
to say, “My product is the best, buy it”. You have to entertain, enthrall, captivate and reward with every word, sound and picture.
I predict that in the next 25 years, the bad ads will gradually fade away. They will never be all gone, but as less and less people respond to them, advertisers will be forced to produce messages that will be enjoyable, unexpected and worthwhile. The ad breaks in TV will often be more entertaining than the show you’re watching. Especially if it’s reality TV.
I’ll do my part.