If advertising is dead, then it’s a nice time to start doing advertising

Somewhere advertising took its eye off the ball, forgot what it really does and how it works, and allowed both stupidity and malice to take control of the game. In this excerpt from Eat Your Greens, UM Melbourne's Eaon Pritchard explains why it's a great time to take back the upper hand.

These days everybody seems to hate advertising.

It’s not just those cheeky ‘authenticity-seeking purpose-driven millennials’ that claim to hate advertising. Even ‘old’ people (that’s anyone over 45 in ad-speak, btw) will say they hate it, whilst big sections of the advertising and marketing trade press definitely hate it.

And lastly, most of the people who work in advertising and media agencies seem to hate their jobs – or more specifically they hate the idea that they are selling brands, products and services rather than the more noble aim of solving society’s problems. Indeed, it often feels like we’ve now ‘successfully’ produced a generation of advertising professionals who have never even known what advertising is for, or how it works.

And who’s going to teach them? Well, the rest of us appear to have forgotten entirely.

Being even more cynical, we could say we’ve turned a business that used to value ideas and creativity into “a pig’s breakfast of insufferable bullshit, dreadful jargon, stupid gimmicks and amateur bumblers producing horrific crap”, to use a classic Hoffman-ism.

Who needs creativity when you can be ‘growth-hacking a well-integrated purpose and empowering organisational pivots to navigate today’s disrupted environment and engage with digital ecosystems!’ Or something.

The impending death of something or other is reported every other week. The death of this, the death of that, the death of the other, and the death of the next thing. The death of advertising in particular.

Mea culpa. About 10 years ago I probably was that douche-bag. I called it my own Dunning–Kruger peak.

But if you are lucky, eventually you get over your own bullshit, to a degree. Or at least go into recovery. (I’m taking each day as it comes.)

Perhaps it all went wrong when we forgot the simple fact that the purpose of advertising is to bring brands, products, services and behaviours to the attention of the people so that they might buy them, or buy into them at the next opportunity.

What if the change the industry really needs is to refocus itself towards producing the kind of brilliant, insightful, creative advertising that will get noticed and remembered by consumers. We’ve more ability to screen out crap than ever before, so should the solution be better ways to do advertising, not worse?

If advertising is really dead, can it come back to life?

Back in 1979, the emerging young painter Julian Schnabel presented his two breakthrough solo exhibitions at Mary Boone’s gallery in New York. The shows mainly featured his signature neo-expressionist wax paintings and plate paintings.

Amid the popular and influential art world narrative of the time were widely read articles with titles such as The end of painting and Last exit: painting in respected journals such as Artforum.

It should be noted that those essays (penned by critics Douglas Crimp and Thomas Lawson, respectively) should be approached with some caution unless readers are particularly fluent in academic postmodernist mumbo jumbo.

The final nail in painting’s coffin had barely been hammered into place when at the exact same time other commentators began to herald Schnabel’s works as “the return of painting”.

Julian Schnabel’s 1981 Homo Painting Source: Tate

In later years, Schnabel somewhat wryly reflected: “I thought that if painting is dead, then it’s a nice time to start painting.”

It strikes me that there is a real, live emerging opportunity for those advertising agencies that actually want to take advantage of the expanded 21st-century media and technology canvas to actually make killer advertising. A crazy idea, but it might just work…

It’s worth presenting Schnabel’s full remark on the ‘return to painting’, but mediated through the lens of advertising: “I thought that if [advertising] is dead, then it’s a nice time to start [doing advertising]. People have been talking about the death of [advertising] for so many years that most of those people are dead now.”

Advertising’s many detractors are not dead yet, unfortunately.

Even more unfortunately, a great many are the ones who are supposed to be driving the industry forward, but perhaps their time is coming to an end. Here’s hoping.

Eaon Pritchard is the head of strategy at UM Melbourne. This article is an extract from his contribution to Eat Your Greens – fact based thinking to improve your brand’s health.

Hear from the the managing editor of Eat Your Greens: Fact Based Thinking To Improve Your Brand’s Health, Wiemer Snijders, at MSIX on November 9th in Sydney. Wiemer will be disclosing the top seven insights the book has to offer.


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