My friend Davin deserves the credit for focusing the energy I’ve expelled in this post. His most recent blog post discusses a panel of marketing agency-types – successful guys who’ve done well, thought innovatively, and now fit the stereotype of know-it-all-and-you-don’t marketers. I suggest you give his a quick read and perhaps reference the comments before reading the rest of my post.
But the commentary below stems from comments to Davin’s post. It’s funny working in this industry, because, as probably happens elsewhere, you start to see things through goggles, lenses prescribed by your day-to-day work, and your slant removes you from common perspective.
I have decided that blog comments are not the forum to debate this stuff, in particular because the collegial back and forth didn’t even involve the author, and as you can see the length of this rant is prohibitive for a mere comments section.
Those of us in the industry see advertising as a method of communicating products, goods and services to consumers who are abundantly capable of making purchasing decisions themselves. In fact, we treat consumers as being so capable, so attuned, that we must constantly be thinking forward to find the next great innovation in word of mouth/interactive/targeted/brand/tactile/on premise/etc marketing. I interpret comments made in Davin’s blog reflecting a somewhat common but short-sighted sentiment towards advertising and marketing – which comes from the perspective that consumers are taken advantage of: that advertising forces or at least suggests that people consume; that the general public is somehow manipulated or otherwise coerced.
I don’t believe society is stupid, and I don’t think advertising takes advantage of anybody. There’s good advertising and bad advertising out there, and good advertising, which most people strive to produce, from the media buying stage all the way through to the creative design stage, attempts to converse with the viewer/reader/surfer/listener and provide them value in exchange for their time. Bad advertising just wastes time – and money. Advertising in principle should strive to be a conversation, or at least engage people. We’re all independently capable of making our own purchasing decisions, so to say advertising is evil because it coerces people to consume isn’t giving enough credit to the general public.
It’s important to note that advertising pays for a good chunk of everything we do – love it or hate it. Transit fares are partially subsidized by advertising. Television, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and most credible websites exist because of advertising revenue. Without ads, you’d be paying a lot for news and commentary, and many of the options you know of today wouldn’t be available to you at all, not to mention for $1.25 from a street dispenser or $5.95 on the newsstand. Again, love it or hate it, having a Pepsi campus, or a school basketball team sponsored by Nike helps finance and subsidize their existence.
Are we too dependent on advertising in terms of its revenue generating ability? Sure we are, but the basis for advertising and marketing is that they facilitate making money – whether it’s the media who sells it, the service the advertising pays for, or the product advertised itself. Without advertising you wouldn’t see nearly the motivation to produce the products that are advertised. For every Dove skin tightening cream that you and I can live without, there’s everything from Canon cameras to Bayer aspirin who, if they weren’t making profits, would likely fold, or at the very least you wouldn’t see the abundance of options out there for you to choose from (whether you act on their advertising or research the products yourself).
If we can deal with the reality that advertising exists and it’s an integral part of our lives, we can use it to our advantage and become more aware of what’s out there and how it affects us. For some of us, this knowledge is a useful tool that enhances our personal decisions and our purchasing power. For example, you can ram as much Tim Horton’s advertising down my throat as you want, and yeah, I’m glad it pays for things like minor league hockey for kids who can’t always afford it, but hell no, I’m not ever going to drink their coffee or eat their soups. No matter how many kinds of mushrooms are in there.
Never the less, I approach advertising from a more conceptual and perhaps fundamental standpoint. There are bigger battles in the world to deal with than capitalism and consumerism, and to think there’s a boardroom of suits in New York plotting how to brainwash teenagers into buying millions of dollars worth of their product is short-sighted and largely incorrect. The bottom line is that someone came up with a great idea for something, thinks people will enjoy it, and amidst all of the clutter that exists in the world today, is striving to find a way to get it out there and make a living doing what he loves.
Should we be spending our time protesting school administrators for signing a contract with Pepsi to be the exclusive beverage supplier to a campus, or would our time be better spent and our efforts more fruitful if we ensured that the return for such a sponsorship ensured that every student could realize a 5% savings in tuition?
There is little doubt that the prevalence of advertising and the refinement of marketing have manifested themselves to unbelievable levels of integration in the daily lives of pretty much everyone in the industrial world, but we ought to deal with it just like we deal with recessions and cold weather, and establish a way to take advantage of it. This likely sounds a little odd coming from a left-of-centre person like myself and I’m sure there’s a Noam Chomsky out there who has established counter-points to every one of my arguments, but I reiterate: there are bigger battles in the world, and dumbing down for the sake of society is disingenuous.