Opinion

Advertisers should remember ordinary people don’t care about advertising

Dave Trott offers a friendly reminder that no one outside of advertising cares about advertising, and offers advice on how to make work translate to the everyday person.

Nicholas George wrote a comment on my blog last week:

When I got my first job in an ad agency in London it was a bit overwhelming.

Nobody in my family had ever worked in the capital, or any big city for that matter, so there was nobody I could ask for advice.

But I took my work seriously, maybe too seriously for some people, and after work I really did not want to socialise with advertising people, I got enough of them at work.

Fortunately for me a school friend had been living and working in London for a couple of years. She knew her way around the west end, and was training to be a nurse at University College Hospital.

So we would meet up about once a week, and I knew she worked very hard and was very dedicated to her training. Sometimes she would visit my office in Covent Garden and just sit and take it all in, quietly overwhelmed herself at the amount of money flowing through this business, money that the NHS didn’t have.

One evening we went out for a drink in a pub in St Martin’s Lane. My nursing friend asked what was bothering me and I got pretty verbal and angry about a client who kept turning down my ideas for a trade ad for Bombay Gin.

Then I asked her about her week. The nurse told me she had experienced a Code Blue in men’s surgical. I asked her what that meant. 

A Code Blue was a heart attack victim. She had come on duty and found a man had fallen from his bed in the throes of a heart attack and was lying on the floor. She told me she didn’t panic or get emotional, her training just kicked in and she lifted the guy onto his bed then phoned internally for the crash truck with the paddles for heart attack victims. Unfortunately they couldn’t revive the man, and he died.

My nursing friend told me this in a very matter of fact way, stressing that her training had really worked. And then I thought, I just work in advertising. Advertising is simply an office job. I don’t think I could have coped with a heart attack victim the way my friend had. Because I did an office job, that’s all.

I found two things interesting about what Nicholas wrote.

First: it’s exactly what John Webster, maybe the best creative to work in advertising, always used to say.

“We don’t do anything important like teachers, or nurses, or firemen. We just have a bit of fun and entertain people.”

Second: it reminded me of what John Ward used to say.

He was CDP’s head of planning when they were arguably the best agency there was.

“You have to understand that advertising rates in importance in most people’s lives alongside washing up the milk-bottles before you put them out at night.”

What’s happened at present is we’ve forgotten how trivial advertising is, and it’s ruined it.

Advertising is now full of graduates who take it all too seriously. It’s full of graduates who don’t care what ordinary people outside advertising think.

If you understand the purpose of advertising, you understand it is for ordinary people. If you understand ordinary people, you understand they don’t care about advertising.

So the real question is, how to get ordinary people to care about what we do. And the answer is entertainment, the answer is to make it fun.

Advertising isn’t science, advertising isn’t art. But because planners treat it like science, and creatives treat it like art, it’s become boring. So everyone ignores it except the people who work in it.

Maybe if we could remember how trivial advertising is, we could remember it’s our job to make it interesting, to make it fun.

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog.

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