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February 11, 2008

Advertising isn’t dead. Or If it is, it’s our fault. We killed it.

For the longest time, I’ve hated advertising. Or at least I thought I hated it. Constantly being interrupted to be “given” messages of absolutely no value to me… it’s enough to make anyone a little exhausted.

It’s no surprise then that I took to the “Advertising Is Dead, Long Live Social Media” mindset like cheese on pizza. I love the idea that every day people like you and me took back control of our lives and told advertisers in unison to bugger off. I love that we’ve taken control of the conversation. And as a marketer myself, I love joining conversations as opposed to simply screaming into the void. Lord knows I would not be in this business if all I had to look forward to was creating work that people either hated or ignored.

But before we hammer the nails into advertising’s coffin, let’s take a step back and reassess what’s really going on.

In reality, I’ve loved many ads. Like so many others, I look forward to each new mini-episode of the Mac vs. PC saga. That’s unfortunately the only example of TV advertising that comes to mind as a positive experience, but consider these print ads, all of which are brilliant and provide real value to me.


This ad alone, for no other reason whatsoever, makes me want to own a Bentley. I’m dead serious about this. I know this has everything to do with some male ego thing, but I love the idea of associating my choice in a car with giving everyone else the finger. Is it just me?



These are, of course, classics. They’ve even been featured prominently in an episode of Mad Men, where all the folks at Sterling Cooper are perplexed and even angered by how counter-intuitive the ads are.


Scandic Hilton

These ads may not connect with everyone. But that’s okay. At a bare minimum, any parent, in particular parents of small children, will instantly be able to connect with these. They’re even funny in a “funny because it’s true” sort of way. And even though I could get the same rest at any hotel, I’m suddenly overpowered by the desire to stay at Scandic, as if somehow they’ll understand and sympathize with how exhausting children can be.


Do you really want to live in an advertising-free world?

Given the choice between our current overwhelmingly loud world (in terms of the volume of ads we’re forced to endure) and a world where there were no ads at all, I would certainly choose the latter. But that world would be missing something very important.

Advertising can, when done right and with the best intentions, fill our lives with joy, if only for a moment. Unlike a television show or a book, though, advertising also gives us hope. Take the above Scandic ad. This ad should be considered a public service. It reminds exhausted parents everywhere that they deserve a break and that there are indeed places you can go for those breaks. It’s like a small moment of pure zen, where we can pause and dream and maybe, just maybe, start planning on achieving that dream, if only for a little while.

Maybe we’re simply raising the bar

The world’s greatest copywriters have always said that a great ad is not necessarily an entertaining one. A great ad is one that increases sales. While I don’t disagree that our goals as marketers are of course to increase sales (my chances of landing a job any time soon would be nil if I said otherwise!), we need to understand that today’s world is very different from 20 years ago or even 5 years ago.

In order for an ad to work, people have to pay attention. That should almost go without saying. Today’s consumer, though, avoids advertising like the plague. We TiVo (or download) our favourite shows to avoid the commercials. We show up a few minutes late at the theatre to compensate for all the commercials that run before the previews. We read articles online rather than in print to save the effort of flipping through publications that are 80% advertising.

Today’s consumer has been used and abused my marketers for too long. We (the marketers) have been dumped.

And yet, great ads continue to do very very well. Particularly entertaining ads are shared online like wildfire (yeah, I’m talking about that viral thing, you may have heard of it).

The problem isn’t with the medium, i.e. paid advertisement. The problem is most people would rather watch reruns of The Nanny (shudder) than have to sit through the terrible crap that gets passed as advertising.

We need to think of advertising as we would any pitch we would make to a client. First, we need their attention. Then, we need to keep it. If we can manage that and communicate our message in a compelling way, we’ve done our job.

What if…?

Have you ever run an AdWords campaign? If your ads do poorly, Google stops running them.

What if the major television networks did the same thing? What if NBC held its advertisers to the same standards it uses when deciding which shows to run and which to cancel? What if every commercial you saw on television was either entertaining, meaningful, or in in some other way truly valuable to you?

Would you watch them? Personally, I would. If advertisers started respecting my time and attention, if they made sure they weren’t wasting my time, I’d watch. Gladly.

“Advertising” today, for the most part, neither “ads” anything to our lives nor does it provide any “zing” (sic). Discuss.


I think you've hit the nail on the head. Rather than threaten the very existence of advertising, social networks and ad-skipping technologies are simply upping the stakes and echoing the consumer's demand for better quality messages and presentations. Lazy campaign managers will fall while the innovators with strong ties to their audience-base will be celebrated among the blogs, the video-sharing platforms, and the social networks.

All hail the power of the people!

I'm all for power to the people (I posted an article myself on a similar theme, see note below if you like) - but I can't help agreeing that some ads do perk me up or get me feeling inspired - and you're right, that is invaluable. I don't necessarily run out to purchase the related product but it certainly casts them in a more favorable light (and here I thought I was becoming immune...) Examples that come to mind are some of HPs print ads and this Jeep Liberty one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8qVM6f9Ogs



On the whole I agree with your sentiments
but there needs to be a little clarification/distinction between adverts that promote a 'sale' and those that promote an image or idea.

the latter for the most part tend to involve more creativity and with it stand a better chance of engaging the audience.

I would also say you that you consider outdoor - it seems the channel is frequently the purveyor of creative that is extraordinary/out-of-the-ordinary.

I think that in the not to distant future - we as consumers will likely be given the choice of which commercials we want to watch - at which point there will be a quantum shift back to the craftsmanship of the trade.


@Benjamin: I love that - "Upping the stakes". I wish I'd used those very words/

@Monica: I hadn't seen that Jeep ad. thanks for sharing it! I don't know how many people would like it all that much, but I certainly did. May be the animal lover in me. Put a smile on my face in a "one big happy world" kind of way. Nice!

@Miro: Just so I'm clear, do you mean ads for "25% off!"? If so, I agree. In the end, though, I think all ads represent something of value, and with enough creativity we should be able to tie those sales to something important to human beings. For example, instead of just announcing 25% off, which is the feature, the ad should be focused on the benefit. Benefits can be conveyed in a compelling, entertaining, and emotion-trigering kind of way. The benefit of getting 25% off from a really nice suit, for example, is being able to afford that feeling of looking good. Am I making sense?

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