My thoughts on the future of advertising.

22Nov10

Last week the ad world was abuzz about a long, long article written by Fast Company called “The Future of Advertising.” It’s a well-researched article that does a good job outlining the troubles that face our industry and author Danielle Sacks does a fine job of interviewing a ton of big-name ad folks to get their opinions, hopes, fears and predictions.

Are those people right? No one knows – not even the interviewees with their big bets on the future. But while I make no claim to be as smart or as accomplished as any of the great ad minds quoted by Fast Company, I do have an opinion on what’s next for advertising.

The article ponders what coming revolution will save our fine career – will it be crowdsourcing, some new compensation model, or a new agency paradigm all together? Here’s the deal: the revolution that will save advertising is actually… advertising.

For years, a few decades even, advertising hasn’t really been about advertising. It’s been about making pop culture. Or getting your favorite band as a soundtrack. Or finding a wacky 80’s TV star to be ironic in your commercial. It’s been about tacking on a client’s logo after :26 seconds of unrelated jokes that some 20-something hipster copywriter thinks is funny. It’s been about 3 minute web videos that are 2:30 too long or fake ads just for the sake of winning awards.

It certainly hasn’t been about my favorite advertising quote: “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go talk to someone. That’s all it is.” – Fairfax Cone.

And that my friends, is where the advertising revolution that will save us will come from. It won’t come from the ridiculous “TV is dying/Social media is winning” crowd. And it won’t come from the big traditional agencies who think digital is a second-class citizen. It’ll come from those who realize we’re just communicating – and sometimes the best way to communicate is with a Super Bowl spot, other times it’s on a Facebook page, and it might even be (gasp!) via a radio spot or some dude with a sandwich board.

We are in the business of communicating reasons people should buy our clients products. Why do I have the feeling that so many of us forget that? Maybe it’s what’s being taught in the ad schools today. Maybe the recent trend to hire non-ad people as creatives has boosted creativity but left a gaping hole in the part that’s most important – communication. I have a feeling that if I asked every creative in the world “Would you rather have the most famous ad in history that didn’t sell a dime or an ad that never won an award but sold better than any ad ever?” the answers would all be the former.

And people wonder why clients are so dissatisfied with ad agencies these days?

We’ve become so entitled, so full of our own echo chamber jargon, that Ms. Sacks can write with a straight face, “Marketing actually needs to be useful — “use-vertising” instead of advertising — which means that you must think more like a product developer than an entertainer.” Call me crazy, but communicating how we can solve a consumer problem is useful to that consumer. We don’t need to be either product designers or entertainers. We need to give our audience a reason to buy our clients’ products.

Advertising has lost its way. We’re like spoiled celebrities who think they’re entitled to stay at Shutters for every shoot and throw a fit when there’s a brown M&M in the bowl of green ones. What will save advertising is the person, people or agencies that decide enough is enough and return to advertising that sells. That is the best medicine for our industry. They won’t play the game of “Which media is cooler/newer/next?” They’ll choose a medium based on how to best communicate with the audience. And they’ll stop all the self-absorbed crap that passes for advertising in most agencies these days.

In short, they’ll approach advertising in the way that David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Fairfax Cone and the other greats of advertising did – by remembering what our industry is truly about.

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4 Responses to “My thoughts on the future of advertising.”

  1. Well said and terribly logical. My favorite part:

    “It’ll come from those who realize we’re just communicating – and sometimes the best way to communicate is with a Super Bowl spot, other times it’s on a Facebook page, and it might even be (gasp!) via a radio spot or some dude with a sandwich board.”

  2. 2 caff

    Nice post. I do think you are right and once people realize that all these new tools are just additional ways to get messages out…hopefully we’ll be getting somewhere. If I have to read another article that starts with “The death of….” I might just go insane. We fear the “new” world ahead of us with short attention spans and tweets and DVRs–but there will always be a channel to reach consumers with our communications…in whatever form they take.

  3. This is an excellent article. I agree with many points, I would also say, in this era or overinformation, a form of simplified informative advertisement might take more place for some product and services. I also share your opinion about some mind/corporate games I witness in some agency. One of the main reason I am freelancing now. Good job on the blog. Mireille, art director, Montreal


  1. 1 It’s Future of Advertising Time Again. About the (Allegedly New) Crisis of Advertising. | to. wa. - walking on the insight road (and not halfway there).

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