The Advertising Profession in the Public’s Eye
[Editor’s Note:This article is a part of ADText.]
Does advertising create unnecessary wants? Does it act against the public interest? Or does advertising inform the public, helping consumers identify commercial products and services that will serve their needs and desires? These varying points of view of advertising’s role in society reflect significant differences in opinion about the worth of advertising. This unit examines the public’s ideas about the advertising profession and the role it plays. It does so by reviewing the opinions expressed about advertising in opinion polls, books, articles, websites, movies, and TV. It gives responses from several advertising professionals to these opinions and offers readers an opportunity to post their own views about the advertising profession.
2. Public Opinion about Advertising
A short document highlighting the various opinions about advertising expressed by members of the public was prepared for purposes of stimulating discussion. Several advertising professionals were invited to respond on the record to the document. During the course of a week in March 2006, the author met with four persons at McCann Erickson Worldwide and five at Deutsch Inc. Some meetings took place in groups while others were with single individuals. The comments of the advertising professionals were tape recorded, transcribed, and are published later in this chapter.
3. The Document
Opinions frequently expressed about advertising by members of the public were summarized in the following document which was circulated prior to the meetings. The intent was to create a “conversation” by asking advertising professionals to respond to the public’s ideas about the work that they do. The document should be read in conjunction with the transcripts that follow.
An Analysis of Opinions about Advertising
Some jobs and professions are held in higher public esteem than others. What accounts for these differences? Why does the public accord respect to some types of work while viewing others with disdain?
This brief document examines public perceptions of advertising. It looks at the rank of advertising among various professions in national opinion polls, assessments of advertising by prominent public opinion leaders, images of advertising as a profession in Hollywood films, and attitudes toward Internet advertising.
Public Opinion about Professions
In 2005, the Gallup Organization surveyed the American public on its attitudes about various professions as it has done for many years. Specifically, it asked respondents to rank a list of twenty-one professions according to honesty and ethics. The public placed nursing at the top of the list in the most respected position. Other professions held in high regard were medical doctors, pharmacists, teachers, police, and clergy. Since Gallup began collecting this information in 1976, the top position has alternated among clergy, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Although the general contours of the public’s esteem for various professions remains rather constant, events of the day do seem to have some influence on rankings. For example, the rank of clergy fell after revelations about sexual abuse scandals, and firefighters (added for 2001) once topped the list.
At the other extreme, car salesmen were at the bottom in the early years of the survey. Telemarketers have often received that distinction in more recent years. Not far away from the bottom in the public’s ranking of professional honesty and ethics are advertising practitioners. Other professions receiving low ranking are politicians, business executives, lawyers, building contractors, and real estate agents.
Honesty and Ethical Ratings of People in Different Professions, 2005 Gallup Poll [Source]
|Very high/High||% Average||% Low/Very low|
|High school teachers||64||27||7|
|Real estate agents||20||58||20|
|Labor union leaders||16||43||35|
Assessments by Opinion Leaders
The value and significance of advertising receives attention from influential opinion leaders from time to time. Their comments in turn help shape the opinions held by the wider public. The respected Harvard economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, blamed advertising for creating unnecessary desires and wants.1 Fellow economist, Robert L. Heilbroner called advertising “subversive” toward the public interest because of “its relentless effort to persuade people to change their life-ways, not out of any knowledge of, or deeply held convictions about, the ‘good life,’ but merely to sell whatever article or service is being pandered.”2 University of Massachusetts Professor Sut Jhally, a well-known contemporary cultural critic, called advertising “the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history [whose] cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.”3
Perhaps the most effective of all modern opinion leaders — the Internet itself — offers surfers plenty of negative assessments of advertising. These include statements like “advertising is legalized lying” (attributed variously to both Mark Twain and H.G. Wells), sites claiming the reality of subliminal advertising, and many anti-advertising websites such as the “Adbusters” site, Professor Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” site, Professor Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” site, and Professor Richard Taflinger’s site entitled “Taking ADvantage: Ads We Could Probably Do Without.”
Others in the public limelight have been somewhat more sanguine in their remarks. Librarian of Congress and American historian Daniel Boorstin wrote: “We read advertisements… to discover and enlarge our desires. We are always ready – even eager – to discover, from the announcement of a new product, what we have all along wanted without really knowing it.”4
And Professor Jef Richards, former chair of the Department of Advertising at the University of Texas-Austin, weighed in on advertising in these terms: “Advertising is the art and sole of capitalism. It captures a moment of time through the lens of commerce, reflecting and affecting our lives, making us laugh and cry, while simultaneously giving traction to the engine that propels this free market economy forward into the future.”5
Voices from within the advertising industry not surprisingly praise its contributions to society. These words of adman Bruce Barton in 1955 remain an elegant assessment of advertising: “Advertising is of the very essence of democracy. An election goes on every minute of the business day across the counters of hundreds of thousands of stores and shops where the customers state their preferences and determine which manufacturer and which product shall be the leader today, and which shall lead tomorrow.”6
How Hollywood Portrays Advertising
Not everyone reads books by Galbraith, Heilbroner, or Boorstin or happens to hear the remarks of a professor of advertising or the head of an advertising agency, but nearly everyone watches TV and goes to the movies where “advertising” is on display. These Hollywood images of the profession — whether accurate or not — help construct the public’s understanding of the business of advertising.
Even a cursory look into the subject matter of Hollywood films will turn up a lengthy list of movies in which one or more of the characters is an advertising executive or creative director. Often advertising is incidental to the plot, but many times advertising is a central feature in the story line. Whether incidental or integral, the images that Hollywood films contain of advertising agencies and the lives and work of people in advertising remain in public consciousness long past the end of a movie.
Just what do these films show? Thirty films were analyzed with regard to how they represent the advertising profession. Here are some generalizations from the analysis.
1. Advertising is easy work. In the movies, relations with clients are smooth and advertisements spring into being without much effort. Finding the right word or phrase might take a moment or two, but advertising people in the movies produce finished ads and commercials in record time and seem to have great fun doing it. Sometimes the creative idea is generated while shooting sharpened pencils like darts (Nothing in Common), by an offhand remark made by a maid at home (This actually occurs in two films: Mr. Blandings and Corrina, Corrina), by the inmates of a mental institution (Crazy People), or while playing around in the office (Nothing in Common). This clip shows a typical creative moment:
2. Advertising is glamorous work. It would be hard to think of a more glamorous occupation according to Hollywood. Advertising people work in sophisticated offices, live in beautifully decorated expensive homes, dress fashionably, and attend lavish parties. Still images from several movies show these glamorous lifestyles.
3. Advertising is about lying and manipulation. The negative assessments in opinion polls and by outspoken public critics abound in Hollywood’s version of advertising as well. The following two clips illustrate Hollywood’s take on this matter.
Attitudes toward Internet Advertising
Advertising is an evolving field that must keep pace with product development, consumer trends, and media changes. The emergence of the Internet as an advertising medium is transforming the industry once again. However, this relatively new form of advertising has evoked the ire of many consumers.
David Hallerman, an analyst with eMarketer, explains advertisers’ interest in Internet advertising: “It gets the consumer at the moment where the consumer in essence has said I’m interested in this topic and I’m interested in it right now. There’s no more effective time to put your product in front of someone.”7
One well-placed advertising professional, Andreas Combuechen, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Atmosphere BBDO, admitted that “people hate online advertising.” He went on to say: “I don’t know anybody who likes banners. But people will watch a great television spot, no doubt about it. I think online, we’ve got to get to that level of advertising creativity.”8
The reality is that Internet advertising is intrusive and often unwanted by consumers. It is “in your face” advertising. In addition, the tactics of marketers who collect information surreptitiously in order to develop online consumer profiles are well-known.
Banners, pop-ups, and other forms of Internet advertising are just the latest form of a phenomenon that is ubiquitous in modern society. Many consumers resent and actively dislike billboards that clutter urban and rural landscapes, the vast proportion of magazines and newspapers pages devoted to advertising, the frequency of TV commercials, and direct mail pieces — to mention only some of the most common forms of contemporary advertising.
4. Responses of Advertising Professionals
“Whenever advertising is portrayed in popular culture, it’s portrayed in such stereotypical, negative ways.... there is a lot of negative imagery about advertising on campus, particularly at the liberal arts schools. There’s such a focus on obsessive consumption, materialism, and gender portrayals. All these negative things shame students into thinking they shouldn’t go into advertising.”
McCann Erickson New York
“You need to have advertising in a capitalistic society. You don’t need advertising in communism. But in a capitalistic society – where people are competing for the same dollar – you need to have information out there so the consumer can make a choice. That’s what advertising does. It’s all advertising does.”
“It’s a difficult industry to portray accurately because there is just so much that goes on through the day that isn’t exciting to watch. We’re sitting and thinking, or in a meeting and talking, writing emails, doing checkups on the creative department, or whatever. All those things make up the process, but do you want to see any of that in a movie?”
“There are some people who use advertising as their scapegoat for everything they don’t like about capitalism. We’re convenient because we’re out there in their face and interrupting their favorite TV shows. They never think, ‘Oh, they’re bringing me my favorite TV show. I’m getting free content, I shouldn’t complain.’”
“I don’t believe that if somebody isn’t in the market for something, they’re going to see an ad that will create demand per se. I see car ads all the time. I live in Manhattan. I don’t go out and buy a car.”
“I personally love to go to the grocery store, walk the aisles, and see what’s new, what’s out there, and what needs of mine have not been met. I like it that advertising targets me and that the Internet can identify that I’m interested in cooking or whatever and can give me ads that are relevant to what I need and what I want.”
5. Comments of Linda Sawyer and Nina DiSesa
What strikes me looking at the list is that advertising is the only profession that the public interacts with without deliberately seeking engagement. It’s not like the consumer deliberately raises a hand and asks for engagement. Sometimes it happens, but usually not. For the other professions on the list, the public proactively seeks some kind of engagement. Even the telemarketers can be turned away.
This idea that advertising practitioners rank down there at the bottom with used car salesmen has passed into American folklore. What do people in the industry think about it?
We don’t really give it a second thought — unless we’re trying to recruit. If it interferes with our ability to hire talented people, then it bothers us, but we don’t normally think of ourselves this way.
How do you think of yourselves?
Advertising is an integral part of the culture and economy of this country. Without it, we would not have the economy we have. Advertising is an important part of the financial success of a company – and of the country as a whole. And it’s a large part of the pop culture of this country. People don’t go to museums, they don’t go the theater, they don’t go to opera, and they don’t get a chance to go to a lot of places, but they do get exposed to the advertising. It’s an art form for the masses. We hear that constantly.
I would add a third component about what we do. Advertising offers a practical mechanism for communicating about available products and services and the benefits they offer. Of course, a part of what we do is to try to sell those products and services.
Advertising doesn’t force you to do anything. We help people make good decisions. All advertising does is focus people in and try to connect the brand personality with the personality of the consumer.
So you think of yourselves as facilitators?
Of course, and I’ll tell you something honestly. I’ve worked in three big advertising agencies: J. Walter Thompson, Y&R, and McCann. I have never ever run into people who were dishonest about their role as a connector with the consumer.
Doesn’t it concern you when you look at this list and there sits advertising down at the bottom?
I don’t take it as a personal thing or a reflection of how I feel about my own integrity or stature in the world. It’s more of a disappointment because it doesn’t reflect the reality I know. The people I work with have integrity. Our business is complex and challenging — intellectually challenging. I think the most negative thing about this poll is ultimately its effect on the talent pool and the kind of people who perceive advertising as a career choice.
People in advertising are very bright. I’ve been in advertising agencies in Japan, Germany, Brazil – all over the world really — and the same kind of people work in advertising everywhere. They’re bright and engaging and highly creative. Advertising’s a very creative endeavor, and it really bothers me that people don’t seem to understand that. You have to solve problems constantly and do it efficiently without wasting people’s time.
For many professional associations, if they found themselves so low in the ranking they’d be very busy trying to change attitudes. But the advertising industry doesn’t seem to have done that.
How? How could we change it?
I think one of the biggest issues is that whenever advertising is portrayed in popular culture, it’s portrayed in such stereotypical, negative ways. I think that as long as that continues, it’s going to be very difficult to change people’s ideas about it.
Let’s talk about advertising in the movies. It didn’t take much effort to locate the clips you’ve seen.
Nothing in Common and What Women Want give the most accurate representations of advertising agencies. These films stand out as being the most like our business of any on your list. The Fighting Temptations is nonsensical, and Crazy People is a tongue-in-cheek joke. There are not many films that are really about advertising. People aren’t interested in the mechanics of the advertising business, but they love commercials. Everybody loves commercials — good commercials.
I realize that in most of those movies, advertising is just a backdrop to the story. But it’s a very glamorous backdrop.
People seem to think up commercials or taglines while they’re in the shower or throwing pencils at the ceiling. You’ve seen the clips.
The reason people think of things in the shower is that it’s the only time we allow our brains to relax and open up. We’re so intense. We’re so driven. We also drink a lot of water. Because when you drink a lot of water, you go to the bathroom, and when you come back, you say to your partner, “Hey, I just got an idea.”
This image that advertising is easy work, is that totally wrong?
Oh, it’s so not easy.
In fact, it’s very difficult.
I think it may be the hardest business in the world because it’s so subjective — and there are no grey areas. I may think an ad’s great, and somebody else will think it sucks.
When you measure results, there’re so many variables that it’s very challenging to know what to do. You have people from both sides of the equation – from the agency and the client – and you have to deal with a lot of different personalities, opinions, subjectivities, and so on. It makes it really tough. The bar keeps going up in terms of what makes for a great idea. Then you have to execute it so that it will reach the people you want to engage with it. It’s not easy.
What’s an average week like for someone in advertising?
How many hours?
I don’t even think administrative people work just forty hours.
First of all, the hours that we’re actually physically in the office are like fifty or sixty. Then, if you’re in a position like Linda’s or mine where you’re always on the line, you wake up in the morning — six o’clock in the morning — and your brain is already working. You’re already thinking. You probably even send out emails that early, if not earlier. You’re constantly engaged in problem solving. It’s not unusual to work six or seven days a week for several months in a row if you’re in new business mode. And you have to take care of your existing clients as well.
That’s your day job...
...and your night job is going after new business. I think this job is as difficult as the Olympics. I know people who can write a commercial in thirty seconds. They just have to figure out a way to translate their strategy into a thirty-second time frame. That’s easy. Anybody can do that.
But to create a stimulus that’s going to get the reaction you want is something else. If you don’t get the reaction you want, it doesn’t count. The response comes from inside people if you motivate them right. Consumers are like two-year-olds. If you tell them to do something, they won’t do it. You have to figure out what to do or say that will make them want to pick up their toys and put them away.
What about the glitz and the glamour that the movies show? Everybody in advertising lives in a beautiful apartment, drives a luxury car, dresses fashionably, attends the best parties, and lives the best life imaginable. As far as the movies are concerned, life for advertising people couldn’t be better.
You mean there are no long lunches with three martinis any longer?
You eat your lunch while you’re on the phone, while you do email, or while you’re having a meeting.
Sometimes you’re lucky even to get lunch.
Creative Director is a job usually found within the entertainment, advertising, or entertainment industries.
Of course, we sometimes do business over lunch. You might take a client to lunch, to dinner, to a ball game, or even to the opera. These are opportunities for building relationships with clients. As a creative director, I don’t have a lot of time to do that. I’m busy winning new business and putting out fires. That’s what I do — solve problems and win new business. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on things that are going well.
The picture you’re painting is that it’s not easy but a lot of hard work. So what is the payback?
It’s very stimulating — and funny!
It’s such a colorful environment. There’s such an eclectic bunch of bright and creative people that thinking about going to work some place else where the hours might not be as difficult and work might be more linear and consistent seems boring.
Boring! Solving problems can be the most fun in the world. If you have the right people in the room, they’re going to be funny while they’re solving problems.
What kind of humor?
Well, I’d say there’s a very big undercurrent of sarcasm and cynicism, but in a good spirited way.
You never laugh after a good meeting. If it’s a good meeting, you go, “Well, that was great.” If it’s a bad meeting, you just howl all the way back to the office. I remember one time we had an unruly bunch of gunslingers for a client. We were in there presenting work to them. We’d done very good work for them for about four years. They were getting tired of us. We presented all this work, and they were fidgeting. I said, “Do you want to take a five-minute break?” I figured it would be a potty break. They left for an hour. We sat and waited, but they never came back in the room. To this day, we still laugh about that meeting.
They just left?
They just left. They never came back in. I finally found them on the balcony smoking cigarettes. I said, “Are you going to come back in the meeting?” They went, “Eh, we don’t want to. Bye!”
If they’d told us that an hour earlier, we could have caught an earlier plane back home! It’s things like that we laugh about.
So that’s one of the paybacks. What else?
Another thing is that you work in collaboration within an advertising agency. You can’t do your job by yourself. So you’re constantly working with different kinds of people who have different functions. It just adds to the stimulation, if you enjoy that type of thing. It’s like a kibbutz. It just won’t happen without everyone somehow putting their part on the conveyer belt. If you thrive on interacting with people, there’s almost no other profession where the deluge of human interaction goes on all day long.
If you don’t have a team spirit, you can’t survive in advertising.
You won’t be able to solve the client’s problems, and you can’t survive. You have to have other people there who are rowing in the same direction you’re rowing in. Otherwise you can’t solve the problem. It’s too complicated. It’s too hard.
And then having said that, the converse is that when you do work together, it’s like one plus one equals three. You’d never come up with a thing that big on your own. All these great minds just keep building on the idea and making it better.
What else works like this?
Entertainment works like this in Hollywood.
And maybe TV too, but I think they’re really cutthroat and untrustworthy. People in advertising are less like that because we depend on each other so much and work together constantly. And it’s not for just one project. We’re in it together, and we’re in for the long haul. It’s like being siblings. If we piss somebody off on a Thursday, we’re going have to face them on a Friday, and the Saturday and the Sunday too. It’s much more familial than other professions.
What about the other generalization that comes of the movies – the lies and manipulations?
Oh, that’s bullshit.
But there is a stereotype of advertising out there.
Nobody who ever worked in an advertising agency, even somebody who was bitter about working in an advertising agency, would really say those things. It’s such an exaggerated view — lies, manipulations, subliminal advertising, and all that. Advertising’s never been more honest than it is today. It has to be very transparent in the way it talks to consumers. Consumers are savvy. You can’t succeed by feeding them lies and manipulations. It would backfire.
But the public seems to think, for whatever reasons, that you’re liars and manipulators. The evidence is there in the Gallup poll, the movies, and so on.
I’ll tell you where that lying thing comes from, where the public gets that idea from. If you have a product to sell, say if you’re selling car wash, you know that car wash is not going to be the right product for everybody. But you’re selling that car wash. For the person who’s in the market for car wash, the information’s relevant. But a lot of other people will be looking at the commercial too, a commercial that wasn’t meant for them. They’ll see it and their bullshit meter will go up. We try to match the right products and the right brands with the right person. Somebody else is going to look at it and say it’s baloney.
Of course, Hollywood never talks about problems like this.
Yeah, it’s much more fun to say, “You’re liars.” It’s much more fun to say that advertising people lie. Nothing in Common and What Women Want are serious, well-done movies. They don’t depict advertising people as liars.
I think if you look at What Women Want you could say that the character played by Mel Gibson is in fact very manipulative. He reads people’s minds and steals their ideas.
And he paid a price for that. Of course, we’re manipulative. I’m very manipulative. I made my whole career by being manipulative — but in a very benevolent way. My role has been to get people in the agency and the consumer to look at things the way I wanted them to look at them. In a way, it’s true that we’re manipulative. If you manipulate people to your benefit instead of theirs, then you don’t last in this business. But if you use that power of manipulation and persuasion and motivation, if you use it for a good purpose, then you succeed. We’re all manipulators. We start manipulating our parents when we’re two months old. What do you think all that crying is about?
There’s a very big difference between that and deception. In the movies, having villains makes the story more intriguing. People love villains. Take any profession. A lawyer can be portrayed as well-meaning and earnest or as a cutthroat who’ll go to any length to get what he wants. But to Nina’s point, you won’t last if you’re deceptive. The product won’t sell and you’ll be rejected.
Is this a problem for advertising, that there’s such a disconnect between what you know and think and this public image of your profession?
We are having trouble recruiting people in the account management area. And that’s a problem across agencies. However, I think the reason is that agencies aren’t compensated enough for the job they do. They just don’t have the money to hire star talent away from Wall Street and other industries that pay a lot more than we pay. We don’t have trouble recruiting creative people. We get the cream of the crop for creative, and we do okay with media. Nobody makes planners, so we can’t find them anyway. That’s the problem we have. It’s not that we can’t recruit the best because the industry is dishonest but because we can’t pay enough.
I think what you say is a big component, but we’ve learned that there’s also a lot of negative imagery about advertising on campus, particularly at the liberal arts schools. There’s such a focus on obsessive consumption, materialism, and gender portrayals. All these negative things shame students into thinking they shouldn’t go into advertising.
I have never spoken on a college campus where somebody didn’t ask me if we do subliminal advertising. I always say I wish I knew how to do subliminal advertising — it would make my job easier! I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t know anybody who ever did. Now we do sell $200 running shoes to inner city kids who shouldn’t be paying that much money for them. We do do that. That’s bad.
Well, let’s take subliminal. Saying, “I don’t do it, and I don’t know anybody who does,” doesn’t engage the question. I suspect that the person who asks you is really asking something more complex: “Are you engaged in trickery of some sort, of things that are beyond people’s normal perception? Are you pulling the wool over my eyes by urging or causing me to do things that I’m not conscious of?”
Read an interview of Wilson Bryan Key from Advertising & Society Review.
So I think the person is asking you that when they’re asking the question about subliminal. Just to answer by saying, “I don’t know what it is,” doesn’t really engage the depth of the question. They’re not saying, “Did you see the penis in the ice cube that Mr. Key says is there?”
But that’s the most trivial level of the question.
Yes, of course, we create desire.
Sometimes I think this issue has to do with parity products. You don’t always get to work for the client with the most superior product or service. Sometimes you try to create a desire that really goes beyond the merits of the product. But at the end of the day, the consumer is in ultimate control. It’s not done as trickery. Deceit and persuasion are two very different things. And I think consumers really understand the difference.
It’s our job to make somebody want to buy something. I mean that’s what advertising is. We’re selling something. I remember when I was working on Cheetos at Frito-Lay and my sister said —oh she was such a purist — she said, “I don’t know how you can advertise that crap.” I said, “Well, you know, I could never get you to eat Cheetos. But if somebody wants to eat red dye number 4, extruded corn chips, I want them to eat my red dye, extruded corn chips.” I’m not going try and persuade someone to eat Cheetos if they don’t want to eat it, but I do want them choose mine if they’re into that category.
Consumers are very savvy and aware of what advertising is. So any time they see an ad, they know the purpose of the ad is not to entertain them. Hopefully, it will do that too, but it’s about selling them something. We can’t get away any longer with something that looks like an editorial, but when you see the tiny type, you find out it’s an ad. We can’t get away with those things anymore.
Nonetheless, there does seem to be an uneasiness outside advertising about what advertising does. Do you wish you were held in higher public esteem? Those people at the top of the list must be pleased to hear how the public evaluates them. Wouldn’t that be nice if that were also true for what you do?
Well, I’ve never heard any of this directly. Maybe it’s because people wouldn’t say it to my face. In my whole life, I’ve never told somebody that I work in advertising and had them look down their nose at me.
I suspect that if you had a party and invited a nurse, a druggist, and all these people at the top that there would be more intrigue with the advertising person. I think that the poll shows the dangers of asking people what they think and having them tell you what they think is the right thing to say. If they put advertising higher in the poll, they’d be asking what it means about them to say advertising is more interesting than nursing. They might think it would mean they’re losers or shallow or something like that. I always get the same response, “Oh, you’re in advertising. What clients to you have?” or, “I love that commercial!”
Yeah, we’re the center of attention. So people may not respect us when you sit them down in a room and ask them to rank professions, but in reality they’d like to have us as friends because we’re more interesting to them.
I do think the public is fascinated with what you do because there it is — the finished product - but how it happened is a mystery.
Well, it did it happen well because of the intersection between understanding people’s values, their motivations, and what’s going on in the world. Bringing all that together is fascinating. In advertising, you truly are a student of the world. You work in a million categories, with all kinds of people, and usually don’t realize how much you actually know. I sometimes answer questions and think, “How do I know that?” I’ve learned so much about business and people and the state of the world. You get the most global and well-rounded education in life. So, who do you want to talk to at the party?
It’s true. We’re a mile wide and an inch deep – but that inch is topsoil, the richest part. If you stay in this business as long as we have, you really do have an incredible breadth of knowledge. Ask me anything about computers. I can fix a computer. You know why? Because I worked on computer accounts for so long and learned so much about them. Most people in advertising love the business. If we didn’t, we’d get nowhere. Linda wouldn’t be the CEO of her company, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. We couldn’t have lasted if we didn’t love it, if we weren’t good at it, and we didn’t excel at it.
What about public figures like Galbraith who said that all advertising does is create a lot of unnecessary needs and wants.
Yeah, but that was back in the sixties, right? What a world back then.
But that idea is still with us.
Well, was it true in 1960 when he said it?
Maybe the issue was that advertising — at least on TV — was so new then. It had only been going on for about fifteen years.
You know what’s ironic about that statement is that it’s more an indictment of America than it is of advertising. The desire to have as much — as many products and as many services — isn’t something that advertising could create without an underlying interest.
Do you like being a part of that? Is it gratifying when you look around and see the society that you’re helping to create?
If you love this country and all that it is, it makes you feel very much a part of it.
Let me put it this way: my goal is to beat Linda. If Linda’s selling a drug that makes you go to sleep and I’ve got a drug that makes you go to sleep, I would like to bury her. I would like people to buy my drug and put her drug out of business, right? We’re really the survival of the fittest. A bad product dies very quickly and the good ones succeed.
It is particularly gratifying when you do work on a brand that actually does change lives and you can feel that you’re making a difference in the world. But truthfully, there are only so many of those out there.
Well that could be the drug you just described, but what about the $200 running shoes and the social problems that they created? Both those products seem to be out there.
You know, I never worked on a cigarette. And I worked in agencies, at Y&R and at McCann, where there were cigarette accounts in the agency. And I made it without working on them. I tried to become so valuable that when I said I didn’t want to work on the cigarette account, they wouldn’t fire me. And there are certain things we’ll never do. McCann Erickson will never do a political campaign because we don’t believe that we should take our powers of persuasion and try to convince somebody to vote a particular way. We think people should make up their own minds without our interfering.
Does that mean you don’t think that political advertising — thirty second spots and all — is wrong?
I think political advertising is a blight on the industry. It’s just so trashy, and lies are exposed all the time with no accountability for them. Most of the time political ads aren’t done by any of the prestigious agencies.
I’ll tell you something else. Because advertising comes into your home, because it’s such a personal medium, everybody thinks they can do advertising. People are always giving me their ideas for commercials like they’re experts.
Especially for Coca-Cola. Everybody always has a million commercials for Coca-Cola. Like we haven’t thought of them already! Most people are fascinated with advertising, and yes, there are times when we’re advertising expensive clothing and expensive apparel to children who can’t afford them. That’s a shame, but it’s a democracy, I don’t know how you control something like that. I don’t personally work on those accounts. We don’t really have those kinds of accounts at our agency. I don’t think Deutsch does either.
But if Nike came to McCann Erickson and said they wanted to give us their business, would we say no? Of course not. Luckily we don’t have to deal with these issues. The accounts we have are products that people need and can buy. Someone’s going to buy shampoo. I want them to buy my shampoo – that’s all I’m saying. Somebody’s going to buy a computer. I want them to buy the computer I’m selling. Somebody’s going to buy wireless service, I want them to buy Verizon.
What about Sut Jhally’s comment that advertising is “the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history whose cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it?”
When did he say that?
Around the turn of the millennium. It’s that recent.
He thinks the excessive consumption that we are all involved in is creating huge environmental and social issues...
...and that we’re on a collision course headed for disaster.
Is consumption out of hand? What about super-sizing everything and the problem of obesity?
Doesn’t advertising promote consumption?
Why don’t they go after the industries that do these things instead of the advertising agencies?
It’s a much bigger issue in terms of corporate responsibility and parent responsibility. Advertising ends up being an easy target because it’s so public, but it’s not the real problem.
They ought to go after McDonald’s and the fast food places that do the super-size stuff.
It is a big social problem, isn’t it? In defending advertising, you seem willing to say that there are some places where it shouldn’t be used like political and promoting overeating.
We’re constantly involved in public service advertising that tries to persuade people not to smoke, not to overeat, not to over spend. I just came from Ad Council today where we discussed a fabulous campaign that’s about to run that tries to get young people 25-to-35 to save a little bit out of every paycheck, to get in the habit of saving so that it becomes a part of what you do. We spend an enormous amount of time and money on the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Ad Council, the Red Cross, and you name it. All of them get free thinking, free ideas, and, in many cases, free production from advertising agencies who are trying to help right the ways of the world.
You’ve said that people like advertising. So how do you understand all the complaining about Internet advertising?
Well, that’s not good advertising. People like good advertising. Look at the BMW fifteen-minute films. They loved those. They were fun, they were interesting, and they were engaging. But crappy ads – whether it’s on TV or your computer screen — are not going to be enjoyed. The only people who don’t understand that are the clients.
So why are there bad ads?
Because the clients don’t know the difference between the good and the bad ads very often.
There are a lot of mediocre agencies putting out bad advertising. The Internet is just an example. It’s not really different from a print ad except that advertising on the Internet is more targeted. Advertising needs to earn the right and permission to engage rather than forcing itself into people’s lives. We want them to think, “Thank you very much. Come into my home. Come into my life.”
I think digital recording devices like TiVo are good for us because it’s going to force us to not put a crap on the air. People won’t watch.
It’s not different from VCRs and remote controls.
When I TiVo things, I go through and see a commercial that’s interesting. I stop, I go back, and I look at it. Commercials have to earn the right to be seen, to come into your home and into your computer, and to interrupt your activity to give you a message that, if it’s not rewarding in some way, deserves to be turned away. They deserve it.
One important thing that you’re pointing out is that the criticisms of advertising do not distinguish between the different kinds of advertising. It’s talked about as though it were just a single entity.
And the generalizations call it all bad.
We are a fairly narrow industry in what we do, but it has a very broad impact. How many industries have a day like the Super Bowl where the entire country participates and watches our commercials?
And talks about them.
There’s an advertising column in the Wall Street Journal and one in the New York Times. You don’t see columns on lawyers or ...
It’s because there is consumer interest in what we do. People will read one of the columns and say, “Oh, Pepsi’s doing this.” They feel connected to it. There may be some criticism of advertising, but people’s behavior and fascination with it suggests otherwise.
Are the opinions you’ve been giving today widely shared by other people?
I think so. If they didn’t think as we do about the positive aspects of advertising, they’d just be left with a very painful process.
If you link these criticisms of advertising to consumerism and over consumption, we can’t fight that. That’s bad. It’s very bad. But we don’t think that way. If I thought like that, I couldn’t get up in the morning.
Many critics of advertising do make that link.
It’s like saying we’re immoral.
I think they’re here and we’re over here (gesturing), and the truth is some place in the middle. You need to have advertising in a capitalistic society. You don’t need advertising in communism. But in a capitalistic society – where people are competing for the same dollar – you need to have information out there so the consumer can make a choice. That’s what advertising does. It’s all advertising does.
Well, apropos this situation, it seems to me that the critique is really about the kind of society we have and advertising’s role in it – rather than advertising by itself.
Is this a case where people are trying to shoot the messenger because they don’t like the message?
Definitely. But I don’t see anybody angry at Nike. Why get mad at the advertising agency? Nike is the one who makes the expensive shoes. If Nike had a sense of social responsibility, they would make rip-off shoes, shoes that are just as good as the ones that the athletes wear only they cost thirty dollars so that the kid in the inner city can afford to have a shoe that he feels proud to wear.
And what would McDonald’s do?
McDonald’s would stop super-sizing every goddamn thing ...
So the problem’s already there before it comes to you?
We can’t tell our clients how to run their business. We can suggest things to them and we do, but if we don’t make money for them, then they won’t stay with us. They’ll go someplace else. Our job is to build their businesses and to make their businesses stronger. It’s like a lawyer. Most of the time, the lawyer’s going to defend somebody who may not be guilty of that particular crime but is probably guilty of something. What are you going to do? If you don’t defend that person, then the judicial system goes awry. And it’s the same thing in business. If you don’t merchandise a product, the economy will collapse.
We try to help clients improve their messages when they want to say something that is wrong. If their intention is not to be deceptive, sometimes they want to say things in such a way that the take-away won’t be truly correct. It’s incumbent to jump in because of ethical reasons but also because they will lose by doing that. When you lose a customer, it’s for life.
It’s happened that a client has said, “Let’s do this,” and we’ve said, “Well, although that may be the truth, the perception is going to be something very different so we can’t do it.” We won’t do something that’s wrong, and if they insist people will not to work on that business. Good people won’t work on that business, and pretty soon the B-team and the C-team will be working on their business. The work will get terrible, the client will fire the agency, and go somewhere else. It’s like the circle of life.
6. Comments of Matthew Anderson, Nathan Hunt, Karin Prior and Alan Snitow
Advertising gets a really bad rap today because of invasiveness. The craft suffers because everyone’s getting spam five hundred times a day and banner ads popping up in front of things you want to use. It gets very frustrating. On top of that much of advertising is so bad. There’s a reason TiVo’s so popular. We all want to pass through all the crap and end up seeing the small amount of advertising out there that’s really effective and smart and fun and creative.
So you think the public’s negativity is based on the large amount of bad advertising?
A lot of people see advertising as a pain in the ass rather than something that’s interesting or creative. You get exposed to 80 to 90 percent of stuff that’s bad and maybe 10 percent that’s really quite good.
But the opinion is based on the 90 percent and doesn’t reflect people’s opinions about the 10?
Do you have TiVo?
[All four say they do.]
People who work in advertising tend to skip advertising even more than other people because we know what’s coming. We know how crappy it’s going to be.
The thing I found interesting in the document was the statement that advertising’s institutionalized lying. That actually amuses me because I know the hurdles you go through to write a single sentence for an ad. We have to deal with legal hurdles. We are so much more truthful than, say, journalists. Our standard of proof is so high. Far from being liars, we are ridiculously truthful.
People don’t have a sense for how much oversight there is in the advertising business. Our clients work in incredibly competitive categories. There is so much competitive pressure and litigation that even if we wanted to say something that isn’t true, we wouldn’t do it anyway because promises that you can’t live up to will bite you in the ass in the end. We say, “Nothing is worse for a bad product than good advertising.” When people have a good experience, they’ll tell four people. When they have a bad experience, they’ll tell nine people. Even if we wanted to say something that wasn’t true, the environment is so competitive that we’d get sued quickly for something we couldn’t support, something that’s not true. Those statements about lying in advertising and false advertising — maybe they are buzzwords in the culture — really aren’t very feasible in the business. I think that there’s a big gap between what people perceive our objectives to be and what we can actually do. This is true without even going into ethics.
There’s validity to the claim that marketers and advertisers try to get messages to targets who are vulnerable. There’s a lot of advertising out there talking about those sweet cereals and there certainly is an ethical fine line between marketing products sensibly and saying that something is healthy for kids that has many carbs and tons of sugar in it.
I find the criticism of advertising as a shady discipline interesting. I realize that people say that, but I’ve never taken it to heart because I know why I got into advertising. It has a lot to do with the opportunity to present a product to somebody who’s maybe never seen it before and allowing them to know things they didn’t know about. I personally love to go to the grocery store, walk the aisles, and see what’s new, what’s out there, and what needs of mine have not been met. I like it that advertising targets me and that the Internet can identify that I’m interested in cooking or whatever and can give me ads that are relevant to what I need and what I want.
So there’s a big disconnect between how you know advertising and the things that get said about it?
I see three types of criticisms about advertising. One — and this one I really agree with — is that it can be incredibly rude and invasive. People in advertising do talk about stopping power. Sometimes you really are seeking permission to present a message to someone. If you’re being invasive, I think it’s obnoxious. A second criticism is that we’re liars. I don’t buy it. I know from experience that we’re not lying. And the third one is the general sense that we’re driving the materialistic culture and that we’re creating demand for things that people don’t need. And you know what? I think people need to — I would not go out to the consumer and say this but — they need to get real! People are materialistic. Don’t blame us for that. They want the BMW. I’m not making them somehow — through my advertising voodoo — making them want it. I don’t buy that.
One of the most important things to say about advertising that the consumer doesn’t always recognize is the fact that content of TV, radio, magazines, the Internet, all that stuff is brought to them by advertising. And interestingly I’ve seen several surveys recently that asked people if they’d rather pay $1.99 to watch a TV show on their iPod or watch it for free if they also watch a 30-second spot. You know what — 75%, 80% of the people said, “Oh, I’ll watch an ad to get free content.” People forget about that. If you go back to the early days of television with big sponsored programs, people weren’t saying, “Oh that was horrible of Proctor & Gamble to bring me my favorite show!” There is a disconnect between people thinking that advertising is awful and intrusive and all that and at the same time appreciating what’s being given to them free because of advertising. They’re saying, “I’d rather have an ad than pay for this stuff.”
Nathan’s last point about advertising creating demand is an interesting one. People talk about marketing and advertising creating demand and making people buy things they don’t want. That’s a common perception, but I don’t believe that if somebody isn’t in the market for something, they’re going to see an ad that will create demand per se. I see car ads all the time. I live in Manhattan. I don’t go out and buy a car because I’m not in the market for a car. Advertising is a soft force. It certainly plays a role in my perception and attitudes of brands. If I have $10 to spend, it may help me make my decision about where to spend my $10 within a category.
Advertising should be seen as a very small portion of education. It makes me aware of a product and what that product can do for me. It’s my responsibility as a consumer to take that next step and figure out what other products are out there and whether they are better or worse for me. If you just respond to advertising and do what it says, then you’re lazy and deserve it.
To a certain extent we also create our own problems because we won’t want to admit that advertising is only a small portion of the education of the consumer. We want to present ourselves as providing this amazing service, but I’ve had clients ask me flat out, “Will this sell my product?” The answer always has to be, “No, I can’t make that promise.”
It’ll get you to the website, or it’ll raise your awareness, or it’ll get you interested, but it’s not going to actually convert into a sale.
What do you think about Hollywood’s portrayal of advertising?
Right! It’s oversimplified, it’s stereotyped, and it’s played up to create drama because, like anything, the real world is not exciting or interesting to watch. It’s just like watching ER or Grey’s Anatomy. That’s not what medicine is like. When you watch, that’s not what law is like.
Indiana Jones is not what anthropology is like.
When I see advertising in the movies, it amazes me that there are no computers on anyone’s desks. There are like no computers at all.
It’s all brainstorming and spontaneous ideas.
Hollywood takes all the science out of advertising. I’m in media planning, and I’ve never seen a media planner portrayed in any movie that I can recall — ever. It’s all about the creative idea presented to the client, and bam! It works, and now we all get to wear our fancy clothes and go out to dinner or whatever. All the research, all the science, is just skipped over.
There’s like a creative guy and some sleaze ball in a suit who is supposed to be an account guy. Sometimes they’re the same person, that’s amazing!
Yes, usually they are both rolled into a single character.
Hollywood has a close relationship with advertising. Actually, most creatives want to be screenwriters or making movies, to over generalize. And we work with Hollywood on product placement. In reality, they know a lot about advertising. Maybe there’s a little bit of, “I’ll have some fun with the ad guys!”
One of my coworkers the other day was talking about how she got into advertising. She said she used to watch Who’s the Boss? Angela Bower was in advertising, so she wanted to be in advertising. And I looked at her and said, “Are you serious?” And she said, “Yeah, I’m absolutely serious.” So obviously, Hollywood did influence her. She works in media planning, and it’s not anything like she saw in Who’s the Boss?
Do you think the advertising industry cares very much about all these perceptions?
I think it should in the sense that we need to have good talent come through the doors. It’s important that people think this is an interesting, worthwhile field so they won’t just head off to be doctors and lawyers and stuff like that.
Advertising’s an art form. It really is an expression of art. Of course, it has business objectives tied to it and it has to communicate quickly — but it’s art. I recently heard that in one Asian country — I’m not sure exactly which one — but they have a popular weekly TV show that focuses on the best advertising from that week. Everybody sits and watches half an hour of commercials and they celebrate the art of advertising. We have our award shows like the Oscars, but nobody outside advertising cares about them. I’m not saying that they should, but, you know, it would be nice for the general consumer public to realize how much talent there can be within the advertising industry.
I agree that it would be nicer to get better people applying for jobs. When I was graduating, people were looking to get into investment banking or consulting. They were definitely not looking at advertising. It just wasn’t a part of the consideration. And that sucks. And I think the other thing is — I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve definitely had the experience — people will ask me what I do. When I say, “I’m in advertising,” I’ve had some very snotty and dismissive reactions. It happened last night. I told someone I was in advertising, and they said, “Har, har, har, I guess it pays the bills.”
That’s funny, I get the opposite reaction. I get more of like, “Ooh, that’s cool, Ooh, that’s neat, “ and “Ooh, you make commercials.” I’m like, “No I don’t,” but I really feel like I get more of that reaction — like the glamorous thing, like the Hollywood perception.
Another issue is the financial side. If you’re going into advertising just out of college, you’re not going to be making a lot of money. I think a lot of decisions are made on that basis. It’s not a difficult choice to say, “I’m going into finance and make $250,000 my third year out of school” versus “I’m going into advertising and scraping at $32,000 or whatever the going rate is these days.” There’s not a lot of immediate gratification in the industry in the sense that you’re going to see some real money in return. That comes much later on. And even later on, it still pales in comparison to being a doctor or lawyer or someone in finance.
Can we go back to your experience last night? Tell us how you responded.
I’m not into confrontation. I assume I’m not going to change their mind under those circumstances. I’m guessing their idea is based on years of perception, years of people reconfirming those beliefs for them. So, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, it pays the bills, but it’s actually kind of fun.” I just leave it at that.
But how does it make you feel about your self-worth and your self-esteem when people talk that way about the kind of work that you do?
Not to make this a personal therapy session...
Work it out! We’re with you here. We’ve all been there.
It does bum me out a little bit, because I like coming into work every day and I like what I do. I don’t know that many people who enjoy their jobs as much as I do. Speaking of my friends from college who have very lucrative jobs, they really don’t have the fun I do and the personal satisfaction. When I get a remark like that — and I get it often enough — I’m hesitant to even say in certain circles that I work in advertising. It lets the air out of you a little bit.
A lot of times if someone asks me what I do, I’ll say, “Advertising,” and then I almost feel like I have to caveat it — that I work at a good agency, that we do decent work, there’s a lot of thinking and strategy that goes into it, and all that stuff. I feel like I have to add that extra to validate it a little bit. It is unfortunate. If you’re a doctor, people pretty much know what you do and that kind of stuff.
How does that make you feel?
I also enjoy my job and love what I do. I went to college for advertising knowing it was the line of work I wanted to do. It isn’t so important how other people perceive it, but I do like it when people think it’s a neat thing to do. They really have no idea what I do, so I just take it for what it’s worth: “Okay, great, glad you like it.”
Someone else described this as the Thanksgiving dinner, being put on the spot and asked to explain yourself to your family and friends.
In larger ad agencies, jobs include account executives, creative directors, media planners, and researcher/planners.
Well, I do have a brief explanation of media planning. I tell them I figure out where to put the ads, where to spend the money, and that I’m kind of the accountant of the advertising world. That’s about it. I don’t get asked a lot more questions except for a few people who want to tell me, “Ooh, ooh, did you see that Geico spot last night?” I get asked to critique the various campaigns they’ve seen most recently.
So you’re the resident ad critic?
What about all the complaints about Internet advertising nowadays?
It’s still kind of the “wild west” right now. We have basic rules we follow in most other media like limiting the number of billboards in a given area — some states have those laws. Or there’s been a general agreement that for TV you’re going to watch like an eight-minute chunk and then a minute and a half of ads. For magazines, you know that the first fifty pages are ads. There’s been this sort of general agreement like a social contract. People know ads are going to intersect with their lives in certain ways and they can pay attention or ignore them. It’s their choice. When you do something like the Internet with pop-up banners and spyware and that stuff, clients love it because they think, “Oh, we’re definitely getting people’s attention,” but a certain amount of the attention they’re getting is very, very negative.
We all get painted with the same brush though. You’ve got local car dealers who make ads in their closets on the lot. “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Come down to Honest Joe’s!” Everyone hates it, but people don’t make any distinction between that and the beautifully done, national spot. All they know is it’s another 30 seconds interrupting their TV show, and they assume it’s all the same guys. There are a couple of small player casinos and porn shop guys on the Internet flooding your inbox with a million erectile open-my-email and jazzy lights pop-ups. They sneak through your stuff or don’t let you close out of them. Our clients don’t do that. We don’t do spam emailing and we don’t do pop-up ads, but perceptually the couple of bad apples is doing a great disservice to the majority of the industry. If it were up to me, I’d love to see those people shut down. It would help us out tremendously.
Media always self-regulates. I think we’re going to see that, and see some of that horrible stuff start to go away. Still, I’d say there’s value in being able to give somebody an ad online that’s tied specifically to the content that they’re looking at or their interests as a consumer. If you ask people if they’d like to have an ad that specifically talks to the things they’re interested in, everyone says yes. Everyone would love to have an ad that reads their mind and knows exactly what they want.
Except they don’t want their minds read.
Increasingly people are willing. You see it more with Gen-Y who are more willing to give information about themselves and are more open. You see it with myspace.com. It’s a clear example of people saying, “Hey, I’ll tell everybody about myself.” They’re willing to tell people who they are, what they like, knowing that it means a more targeted delivery to them.
Look at Gmail. You get free email, you get an incredible amount of storage space, a great clean application, but you accept that they’re going to read your emails for content and serve you noninterruptive, hyper-relevant ads that talk about stuff that you’re emailing about. It’s weird. If you’re on the Gmail account and you’re emailing about going to Santa Barbara wine country, there’s going to be an ad next to your inbox for wine-of-the-month club. And Gmail adoption hasn’t been any slower because of it. But it’s about doing it right, doing it well, and doing it with consent.
Do you think that the kinds of changes that you’ve predicted for media and advertising will change opinions about advertising? Is the problem up to now trying to speak to everybody through one message and aggravating a lot of people in the process?
No, I think it’s much more fundamental. Every couple of years someone comes out with some conspiracy theory about subliminal advertising. It’s always hysterical to me. Wow, if we were that brilliantly insidious, how awesome would that be? But we’re not. We’re just scraping by. “Here’s a 30-second spot. We hope you like our product.” There are some people who use advertising as their scapegoat for everything they don’t like about capitalism. We’re convenient because we’re out there in their face and interrupting their favorite TV shows. They never think, “Oh, they’re bringing me my favorite TV show. I’m getting free content, I shouldn’t complain.”
There’s a lot more openness online of advertisers saying, “Hey we’re bringing you this stuff.” Consumers don’t necessarily like it, but they are accepting it as the reason why they can access a site. It’s like someone raising their hand and saying, “I’d like to pay your way.”
I’ll tell you a huge mistake I’ve seen the industry making. I forget the term for it, but it’s putting your product into shows.
Is this different from product placement?
It’s the same thing.
For many people, this confirms all the worst beliefs they have. If you basically build up an understanding with your consumer — you watch these ads and we give you this TV show — you shouldn’t break that understanding. The consumer is going to sense that a deal has been broken. TiVo and DVRs [digital video recorders] mean that the people who produce the shows need to find other ways of breaking through, but at the same time it just seems to me like it’s not a smart way to go.
It can be done in a really bad way, or it can be done well. For example, there are scripts where somebody’s going to be drinking a water. Do you want it to be a generic brand or does it make more sense to see somebody drinking a water that’s part of natural life? We’ve learned that in video games, gamers prefer to see Coca-Cola rather than a generic soft drink and real advertisements on the billboards. It enhances their experiences, they say.
There’s also no denying that product integration actually does work. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal right after the Oscars about a purse designer who was part of this. She’s a small purse designer, although she does have a relatively successful business in the city. She spent like $35,000 of her own money just to make sure that somebody somewhere somehow had one of her purses as they walked down the red carpet. Sure enough, she did get somebody and sales are going crazy. They do see Jennifer Aniston wearing something or using something, and they go out and buy it.
But people respond to spam, too. That’s why it exists. If our concern is how the industry is perceived, then I don’t think product placement is serving us well.
It needs to be done very tastefully and very organically in the program. When you watch American Idol, there are three huge Coke things right in front. They’re probably drinking water or vodka and tonic, or whatever. The Coke thing is just so blatantly obvious. But if, like you said, there just happens to be a water on the table and it’s Poland Springs, that’s just a part of Americana. You don’t want to make the placement seem so obvious. You want it to be real. You want it to be part of real life. I don’t personally have a problem with that, but there is definitely a line that can be crossed very easily.
It’s the inescapability that’s frustrating to people in general. It’s not the Orange Bowl any more, it’s the Tropicana Orange Bowl. I don’t go to see sports at the Spectrum, it’s the Wachovia Spectrum. And now even the content is actually marketing messages. You see it online. You see it on TV and in podcasts. There’s a saturation of marketing messages and people’s tolerance for marketing in general is going down. The more inescapable it feels, the more you feel like you’d like to escape from it, the more indignant you become. I get annoyed by what I see as too much of it. And I do it for a living.
Are there any movies that have portrayed advertising as you know it realistically?
I’ve probably seen only 10 or so of the movies mentioned in the document, so I can’t comment on a lot of them. I don’t remember once thinking, “Wow, that’s real!”
You know, though, it’s a terrible portrayal of advertising but Rodger Dodger did strike me as somewhat real. Has anyone else seen that?
It was about this guy — I guess he was a copywriter — who had a serious drinking problem. At the time I was working with someone who was like that. To me they nailed it. All the dynamics at work seemed right on, but it was like the ugly underbelly of the industry — so realistic, yes; nice, not really. And obviously there are places that are more fun to work and places that are less fun to work. That was an example of a place that really would have been pretty miserable.
Any of the rest of you seen things in the movies that resonate with your experiences?
There’s even one of the Desperate Housewives who’s an advertising person, right? She’s a senior advertising person, Felicity Huffman. I’ve never seen anything on that show that I’d say is accurate.
My favorites are advertising spots about advertising agencies, and there’s one right now that’s for IBM Consulting or somebody’s e-business or something, and it’s about “You’ve got a product, and they’ve got a product. You’ve got a distribution chain, and they’ve got a distribution chain. They’ve got this, and you’ve got this. They’ve got an ad agency, you’ve got an ad agency.” Then, they have whatever product it is that these guys are selling, and the other people have a new advertising agency. And the new ad guys are a stereotype bunch of people looking like New Yorkers in black with goatees and presentation boards and easels and looking like when-nothing-else-works-you-fire-the-agency. Portrayals of ad folks are common, but are they ever flattering? I don’t think so. You never hear stories about how marketing or advertising saved a day. No one’s done a documentary on the smoking work that’s reduced teen smoking. That doesn’t make for exciting stories.
It’s a difficult industry to portray accurately because there is just so much that goes on through the day that isn’t exciting to watch. We’re sitting and thinking, or in a meeting and talking, writing emails, doing checkups on the creative department or whatever. All those things make up the process, but do you want to see any of that in a movie?
But every day is different.
Everything is new. Everything is different. Each time you work on a product, it’s a whole new set of problems to analyze and digest and try to figure out the solution, but that’s not something you can portray easily.
People have a dynamic relationship with advertising unlike almost anything else. Everybody thinks they can do it. Everybody thinks they are a good critic of advertising. Our clients get mail every day from people writing to say they have an idea for a commercial, a slogan, or a headline. Some want to be in the ads. No one writes to say, “You should really structure your deal this way.” No one writes a company to say, “You should acquire that company.” But everybody thinks they can make ads. Part of it is the pervasiveness of it, the fact that we see it all the time. Everyone likes to think of themselves as clever and creative. They’ll get a pun in their heads and think, “I’ve got a great ad!” They never think about the strategy. Nobody writes a lawyer saying, “I’ve got a great law suit for you.” They think, “It’s creative. It’s fun. It must be pretty easy.” It’s something we see a lot.
I work in business development and I’ve actually gotten quite a few calls over the years from some guy who says, “Hey, I’ve got this idea.” I don’t know him. I’ve never heard of him, but he thinks that he’s got a great idea and that if he brings it to the ad agency, we’re going to be like, “Wow, we should do that and get that client on board.” It’s crazy, but people really do this.
That’s what happens in the movies.
Any other thoughts about advertising in the movies?
Looking at the list, Crazy People is one that stands out to me. I specifically remember watching it. From what I remember, the main character who was in advertising went crazy as a result of it. Then all the people who were institutionalized with him came up with campaigns that were based in truth. The one that stands out in my mind is, “Volvo, they’re boxy, but they’re good.”
Boxy, not sexy.
That movie is predicated on that idea. There it is reinforcing the idea that advertising is not telling the truth. You have a bunch of people in an insane asylum telling the truth because they don’t know how to lie.
A funny thing is that people will say things they don’t really mean. They will tell you, for example, they want to see realistic portrayals of women in ads, not all the models or whatnot. In reality, people don’t want to see people who look like them. People do aspire up. They do want to believe that things will help. I worked on a product for a very brief time that showed women’s midriffs and had writing on their midriffs. When we got consumer feedback, people would say, “Oh, make sure they’re realistic,” but no one wanted to see a big fat belly on their TV screen. That’s not to say we should be driving unrealistic images of people or whatnot, but there’s certainly a difference in what people say because it’s the right thing to say and what people really feel.
What about the public response to the Dove soap campaign?
What do you think is going on there?
Visit the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” website.
I think people see these women as more real. They’re beautiful people, but they’re a little older and not necessarily the retouched model-ey type. But when it comes down to it, they’re all still very, very beautiful women. So it’s not like this campaign is hugely breakthrough in the sense that it took everybody who is normal middle America – huge people, ugly people with warts all over the place. These are very beautiful natural people.
Advertising thrives on novelty. You want to break through. You have to show novelty. Showing real women worked for Dove at this particular point in time, but if we all said we’re only going to show real women and no beautiful female models, we’re going to do all our casting in the Midwest, it would fail.
In the suburbs of Chicago!
Dove did a great job with the multimedia pitch. Those women were inescapable. They were everywhere. A lot of campaigns aspire to do that, but the Dove campaign really did it. They were on every billboard, on my TV, and in my magazines.
I read there was another campaign that was out there with real women at the same time — Nike. There was no reaction to that at all.
They got panned.
What about this on the Super Bowl?
It had a little altruism thrown in. This is fun for young kids, to help girls with issues of self-esteem, or whatnot. It was like a slam dunk on top of the lay-up already.
I remember watching that. I know I’ve defended us and said that we’re not liars, but there was something in that that was like saying, “Are you in favor of puppies?” Everyone’s in favor of puppies. “Are you in favor of young women having self-esteem?” Of course. Does that have that much to do with Dove? I don’t think so. That to me — and I’m cynical because I work in the business — that was a little bit sleazy. That really isn’t your brand. Your brand can be about natural beauty and real women, but now self-esteem? I was it was a little too far for me.
Apparently a lot of women liked it though.
How about any other responses to issues in the document?
When I was reading it — the stuff about how we’re liars and selling people products they don’t need, I thought about when I was first interviewing for a job in advertising. I had the opportunity to work on a product that I didn’t believe in and that I didn’t feel comfortable selling to people. I said I wasn’t interested and that I couldn’t work on that brand. It was Olestra. Is that product still out there? I don’t know, but it was a new thing at the time — a fat alternative. There are unresolved health issues about it. It was Proctor & Gamble. It was a big name brand.
Is it still around?
Don’t think so.
It had really bad side effects.
Yeah, gross ones.
That’s the whole thing. I was young, and I wanted to work. They said, “Hey, you can work on this.” But I said, “You know what, I’m going to wait for another opportunity that I can feel good about.” I’m not out there to cram products down people’s throats.
I’ve done the same thing several times in my career. Just not been comfortable with an assignment and said, “I won’t work on this.” Obviously someone else did work on it, so I don’t think it necessarily speaks of the nobility of advertising and the industry. But it is something that gets missed. We do have integrity as individuals. The thing I thought about in reading the document is that there is an industry that’s ironically anti-advertising. There are professors who specialize in the conspiracy theory of advertising. The No Logo movement and so on.
I understand the impulse behind that approach and I can appreciate it. At the same time, it’s giving us way too much credit for manipulating people. We aren’t that good at it. If you worked in an advertising agency for just one day, you would come away being shocked at how unsure we are about much of what we’re doing. We will have some research that says this, but we have other reasons to think that might be true. We don’t know basic things like whether women respond more to men’s voices or women’s voices more in voiceovers. We don’t know. We’re not involved in some sort of conspiracy. When I see these things — and I do have a lot of friends who are very leftwing and make reference to such things — I always think they just want to believe that there’s something big and evil out there, and they’ve decided it’s going to be advertising. But it isn’t.
To the point, we’re not nearly as good as people give us credit for being. People forget that we have husbands and wives and daughters and sons and moms and dads, and we’re not trying to screw people for the sake of our clients. We wouldn’t want to. We’ve got kids. We don’t want to put stuff on the air that we wouldn’t want our kids to watch. Or we’re not going to try and sell Granny something she doesn’t need, because I’ve got a granny, too.
I was a surprised that advertising was just above car salesmen and telemarketers.
I’ve heard that before.
We’re not competing with nurses and stuff like that. But we’re below accountants, and lawyers and building contractors, come on! Congressmen! We get a bad rap for a lot of what small advertisers do. Those are the people who are the owners of a small company that probably has its own little in-house marketing thing. They’ve teamed up with their brother-in-law or who knows. They’re the ones who are sending out the discount Cialis ads, the emails a thousand times a day for penis lengthening, all those things.
You read those, huh?
They’re just ridiculous.
I know I get them a lot, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with them.
I wish there was some way...
I just wish there was some way to separate what we do from all that because we get blamed for what a lot people who want to try to make that quick buck are doing. What we do is really different. It’s very disappointing.
The TVs shows don’t portray the nurses who go around killing their patients on medical shows, but when it comes to advertising they paint the worst picture they can.
That’s my dad at the top of the list, and there I am down at the bottom.
Funeral directors — that’s such a slimy business. It’s incredible.
They were probably much lower before Six Feet Under.
How much has this changed since the Internet and all the crap that we deal with there?
Advertising’s always been near the bottom.
It is pretty bad to be down there with telemarketers, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s the worst.
Is this just a perceptual issue?
Well no, I think there are two issues. One is perceptual, and the other is that the industry should self-regulate a little more. I do think that we need to step up and be the ones to say, “This, not this. This, not that.” If we were a little more transparent and there were more rules about our practice, that would keep it from getting any worse. And then in terms of improving it, there’s not going to be a situation where a bunch of advertising people run into a building and save children from a fire. It’s just not likely. It might happen, but they wouldn’t be wearing advertising guy t-shirts so even that wouldn’t do much for us.
7. Comments of John Heath
I feel like I’m at the Thanksgiving table, because this is kind of like the questions that I’m asked every time I’m around the table with family. They don’t understand really what I do. How do I feel about the perception of advertising? Well, I’m a consumer as well. There are definitely times when it is so intrusive that it’s offensive to me as well. I understand the intention of certain campaigns but I also become irritated by the stereotypical advertising. There’s also a lot of horrible advertising out there. A lot of ads just don’t make any sense. They’re not well thought through. That contributes to a bad perception of advertising because the people creating the ads aren’t always creating ones that people enjoy or get something out of. The ones that people really bond with are far and few between.
Make a virtual visit to the Apple Store in SoHo.
What I’m saying is that there needs to be a combination of the advertising with the overall marketing of a product. For instance, Apple really understands the bigger picture of delivering an entire brand experience. If you go down to the Apple store here in SoHo, you enter into their brand. From the client’s level, they’ve really thought through the entire process. They have great advertising, yes, but it’s born out of a really great brand. It’s really wonderful advertising, and consumers want to interact with it. It’s interesting and it hits on a lot of the things they feel are important and that they want to connect with.
So advertising gets blamed for issues beyond its scope in the larger commercial system?
Absolutely. Advertising is sometimes asked to do a lot of heavy lifting. However, advertising is in a lot of ways just the communication part of the equation. It’s just one piece of much larger puzzle. We can package things. We make them seem really interesting and enticing. We connect with the consumer, but when the rubber meets the road, it is the whole process that needs to be driving it. I think this sometimes gets overlooked.
How do you feel when you hear that advertising ranks near the bottom in the Gallup poll?
As long as it’s a consumer who’s saying it, I’m not so concerned. If it were clients, then I’d be very concerned. If this was a Gallup poll of top marketers and they put advertising at the bottom of their list in terms of importance, I’d feel pretty worried.
Worried about job security — for all of us really! If marketers felt like there wasn’t great reception of advertising, that would be a real problem. The fact that consumers — people that are out there who have a really negative opinion of advertising — it’s an issue that makes our job harder in terms of connecting with them. It’s pretty understandable to me that we’re at the bottom of the list because advertising is just one part of the equation. Our industry may just suffer from a lack of a larger holistic marketing approach to certain products and issues.
What is it that aggravates people so much about advertising?
The intrusiveness of a lot of advertising. Some marketers really try to stop consumers in their tracks and really get in their faces and be everywhere. That’s offensive to a lot of people, and I understand that.
Do you feel that’s in the kind of work you do too? Or are you differentiating your work from that approach?
Everything I’ve done has tried to be mindful of the consumer and tasteful in its approach. There’s a line you need to keep in mind when it comes to consumers. A lot of advertisers are panicked now because nobody’s watching TV anymore. I think we as an industry have to be mindful of how far we’re going with things because a lot of consumers feel we’ve invaded their space. And a lot of that advertising is just bad. It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s a waste of time. That goes into the big bucket of negative perceptions. I don’t think consumers necessarily understand what advertising is.
What would you like them to understand?
I’d like them to understand the role we play. Advertising isn’t just TV commercials. It’s not just print ads. It’s creating connections between people and brands. For every consumer in that study that had a negative perception of advertising, I’ll bet we could talk to them and they would name some things they really truly love, like “I love that Apple ad” or “I love the VW commercial that I saw” or something like that. The reason they do is that those marketers have gotten it right. I look at advertising in a much more holistic manner than just the spot that goes on TV, or however the ad manifests itself. I try to make a relevant connection between a consumer and the brand I work for and make it meaningful to them.
What about the image of advertising in the movies? There’s all the glitz and glamour you could possibly want. People have fabulous clothes, unbelievable apartments, drive the best cars, and so on. Yet, the movies also say that advertisers “lie for a living.” What’s your reaction to all that?
Anthropologists get a bad shake, too.
There you go. Look at The Firm and you’re like, “Whoa, that movie gives me a negative perception of lawyers and what they’re all about.” Every industry has their issues with how they’re portrayed in the media. I think advertising is keyed in on in a lot of ways because there’s something aspirational about having your work on television. It’s show business really. I think it’s kind of fascinating in a way. It’s easy for movie makers to perpetuate the stereotype that it’s glamorous or whatever. If I were a lawyer watching a movie like The Firm, I’d not like that much either. Or if I were an anthropologist and I saw a movie that portrayed an anthropologist stereotypically, I’d feel the same way. There’s a lot of confusion out there about what we do and the role we play.
Back to the Thanksgiving table, do you ever feel you get your point communicated to your family?
The Thanksgiving table’s always interesting because I have relatives who are above 80. They don’t really understand targeting. They don’t understand that when they watch a sneaker ad, I’m not necessarily talking to them. They get confused by the ad. But the reality is that they haven’t bought a pair of sneakers in 30 years or so. I wind up helping them understand that advertisers have a method to their madness. I try to explain why an ad might not appeal to them and why they might be confused by it. I spend most of my time defending other people’s advertising, not what I’ve done. They don’t actually attack the advertising that I’ve done because they don’t even know what I work on. I just wind up clearing up a lot of confusion about what the process is.
Do you see the advertising industry doing anything to convey more accurate information about what it does?
I don’t think so
Is that a problem? Does it matter to you personally?
What did you say?
I said that I feel like I’m definitely a part of the moral fabric of our culture. And the question meant, of course, “do you feel like you’re trying to make people buy things that they don’t necessarily need?” I said, “You need to give people more credit. People aren’t just going to run out and buy something because I’m telling them to buy something. People have their own integrity and their ability to make decisions for themselves. We only have the ability to make a product appealing to communicate to them that this is the benefit of this product. They have to make the decision and decide if they want to interact with it.” So, yes, I think we have a role in our society. How does it make me feel personally? It doesn’t bother me all that much personally how advertising’s perceived. I look at it more as just more of a challenge for us as an industry to be able to appeal to consumers about the products and services we’re advertising.
It’s a large, it’s a really large task to change people’s perceptions about advertising. It would be much like changing perceptions about politicians or lawyers. I don’t know. I wonder if we’d really be able to make an impact on people’s perceptions of the industry if we put our minds to it. It would be a huge challenge.
8. Comments of Steve Ohler
If you ranked professions on different measures, things would come out differently.
How would you ask the question?
Well, for example, if you ranked them on creativity — that’s an easy one — I’m sure you’d see a different ranking. I guess advertising does still have an aura of hucksters and dishonesty, so it’s not surprising. I think it’s probably an unshakeable attribution that advertising is somewhat dishonest. I can’t imagine how that’s ever going to go away.
Why do you think the public holds that idea in the first place?
Because our cultural consciousness has so many signposts that point that way. From Vance Packard back in the ‘50s to having to pull things off the air for legal reasons and fighting each other about claims — stuff like that. The stereotype of the ad guy is a sleazy huckster. That view’s been around at least since Cary Grant played in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. It’s been ingrained in the culture. It’s the knee jerk reaction that people have. But on the other hand, a lot of people love to watch good commercials, entertaining commercials, funny commercials. I know my family is very attuned to the good versus the bad ads — maybe it’s because I’m in the business. They don’t look at them as, “This one’s sleazy. This one’s not.” They look at them as, “That one’s clever. That one’s not. That one’s funny. That one’s not.” I think that in the past five to ten years there’s been a bit of a turn toward appreciating the creativity of the medium.
Where’s it coming from?
It’s coming from the networks that air the Funniest Commercials You’ve Never Seen. With the media explosion, advertising’s become a more diverse enterprise than ever before. I think people like that. They appreciate the creativity of well-placed advertising and well-thought-out advertising and advertising that tickles them somehow because it’s funny or because it shows up in unexpected places. There’s a huge downside to this explosion of media as well. The Internet is only one piece of that. I remember I was in Albuquerque over Christmas vacation and saw a parking lot of a large mall where the stripes delineating parking spaces. They had the name of some company on them. It looked kind of cool because they were blue instead of yellow, but it meant that you couldn’t turn around without seeing somebody trying to stick their message in your face because they’re desperate to get your attention. We sometimes go over the top in terms of where we put our stuff. I think if you took a poll ten years from now, the significant thing about advertising would be that it’s annoying, not dishonest. I’ll bet you that.
How does this low ranking make you feel?
I suppose I would feel better about my profession if I walked around thinking that I was saving the world. I don’t really care so much about what people think. The thing I wish I had in my profession was that feeling that I’m doing something worthwhile for the world. Selling air deodorizers or potato chips is not really making a difference. So when I retire which won’t be too long from now, I’d like to spend some time in my life doing something that is more beneficial to the world. That’s why I love getting involved. I know people like Nina who’re really involved in the Ad Council and pro bono stuff. We did something for the U.N. this summer that was not only fun, but also a little bit more dimensional.
What about your reaction to the portrayal of advertising in the movies?
There have been only been a few movies I’ve seen that do a good job of portraying this business realistically. Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason and the TV show Thirty-Something from back in the 80s were pretty accurate. What Women Want is roughly in the zone. It surprises me that Hollywood — so full of creative people — can’t be more accurate regularly in how it portrays advertising.
What about the ideas expressed by opinion leaders that advertising creates unnecessary wants, that it’s parasitic on society, and that it’s propagandistic?
I just don’t think that advertising can make somebody buy something that they don’t want or need. People won’t do that. I’m a free-marketer, so I think that if the market decided it wasn’t necessary, it would go away. Advertising hasn’t gone away, so we’re not unnecessary. You hear this argument in the pharmaceutical industry for example. There’s a proliferation of advertising for medicines. One side says we’re creating a society of pill poppers because of advertising, and some of the doctors insist it’s beneficial because it gets more people to be treated who might not otherwise know that they needed treatment. So I guess that takes me back to the clutter issue. If it gets so insanely cluttered, then I would start to agree with those critics. But I think as a practice, it’s fine. In fact this may sound odd, but I love billboards. I don’t love the clutter of billboards, but I actually love billboards. When I go to a foreign country and I’m driving out from the airport — like Barcelona or Mexico City — where there’s a big long road filled will billboards, it’s a way of understanding the culture for me. I feel I’m getting a little bit of a glimpse into what they’re interested in, what their people look like, and what’s going on in their commerce. It’s almost like a window. I actually like that aspect of it. I think it’s interesting. If there were none of that and I drove into a city I’d never been in before, I would have much less of a feeling of connection I think to those people in that place. I could be the only one on the planet that feels this way, but it’s how I feel.
When people from other countries come to America and see the billboards here, what do you think gets communicated to them?
From the point of view of the advertising industry, do you think the public image of advertising matters very much?
No, I don’t think it matters much in a philosophical sense, but it does matter in a practical sense. We may not be getting the best and the brightest because of that image. The financial industry gets the best and brightest because it’s pure money. They offer people an opportunity to make a million bucks fast. Maybe this is a New York issue, I don’t know for sure, but we have a hard time getting good people because we don’t pay great at the start. You’re at Duke, right? Do you send a lot of your graduates into this industry?
A lot of my graduates would like to go into advertising, but they find it really difficult to get in the door. And when they do, they find it extremely difficult to live on the low salaries that are paid for entry level positions.
So they don’t have ethical or philosophical issues with going into advertising?
Some do, some don’t. When I’m asked about careers in advertising, I say to them that if they have ethical issues now, then they probably shouldn’t go into advertising. I also tell them that there are people who work in advertising who refuse to work on alcohol and tobacco accounts. I do think there are a lot of students who want to consider advertising but who don’t feel the industry would like to have them come into it.
It’s interesting that in London, for example, the culture of advertising is much more star driven and much more attractive to the general population. The British have held advertising in a slightly higher regard and tried to make it cleverer. There’s still a disparity between what the public thinks of advertising in Britain versus America. American advertising is very hard-working and can tend to be pedestrian whereas the British are very clever and witty and funny. Maybe because of that and the place that advertising’s had in their culture, I’ll bet if you took that poll in the UK, you’d get very different results.
What do you think those results would show?
I think even on that you’d find advertising more in the middle of the pack. Above used car salesmen, I would hope.
Any other reactions to the document?
I hope I’m not sounding defensive because these are things I don’t spend my time thinking about a whole lot. I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder or with a cloud over my head thinking, “Oh my God, am I really worse than a used car salesman?” Although when I see those polls, I have twinges of that feeling. What bothers me about what I see in the movies is the accuracy of how advertising’s portrayed. I think if people knew more about what we actually do in our jobs here — how anarchic it can be, how much fun it can be, and how frustrating it can be, and so on — they would have a better, or at least a different, appreciation of the industry. We work all the time with filmmakers, who win academy awards and things like that. It’s pretty interesting stuff, a lot more interesting than working on Wall Street. I guess for prospective employees the story that gets told is important. For the public at large, I’m not sure they really care that much. I think we could do a better job getting our story out, or getting at least making it accurate.
9. Comments of Alan Rush
Media can be very intrusive to the point where people revolt against it. It can be used as a broad sweeping tool in which case people get bombarded with communications about products they don’t even want or that provide no service for them. Advertising is starting to evolve away from this. Advertising’s trying to become less intrusive and more interactive with consumers. That should bring some of those negative readings down.
So you think that changes in advertising practice are likely to change public opinion?
You would hope, because the essence of advertising is providing information to people who are in a certain purchase cycle. If you’re looking for a new car, we’d like to put forward the attributes of the car we advertise. It really comes down to the consumer’s experience with the product. That’s what makes them decide if they would like to purchase it or not. What are you looking for in a new car, here are attributes. At the end of the day, a car’s a car. And it really comes down to the consumer’s experience with the product. That makes them decide if they would like to purchase or not. New innovation — like popup shops in major markets — are taking away some of the shouting and turning it into interaction with the consumer. It’s gotten a lot of positive response. Marketing is changing constantly. We have to.
How does all this negativity about advertising make you feel?
I’m speaking much more about what you think when you hear people saying that they hold advertising in such low esteem.
I’m fine with that because I’ve made my decisions. If I were to be assigned to a product or asked to do something that did not reflect my own beliefs and ethics, I’d decline. If that cost me my reputation or my livelihood, I would look elsewhere. My grandfather worked in advertising. I work in advertising now. He and I have done very similar things in our work. I’ve always felt good about my choices. If I were ever put into those difficult situations I described, that would be a big concern. But I don’t deny that older advertising and that negative reputation kind of fits. People were using it in all kinds of ways to sell all kinds of things. Things have come to light about some of the products advertising was pushing — tobacco, even Coke, and McDonald’s.
You think there’s a real chance things might improve in the future?
I think so.
What will bring it about?
In my opinion, it’s the way that advertising’s going to be done. The nontraditional ways we are using now to interact with the consumer have become almost an opt-in idea. If you want this information, if you want to interact with this brand, come over here. If you want to interact with this brand, provide this. Rather than the broad strokes. We’ve seen it in the decline of national broadcasting. A lot of the powerhouse brands in the US have stepped away from the tried and true spending of money on network television.
Can you give me some examples of how you’re tying to get consumers to interact with brands in nontraditional ways?
In Spring 2006, MasterCard has a consumer contest for writing priceless ads.
Pop-up shops that pop up unannounced, quickly draw crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else challenge conventional ideas about advertising media.
It’s happening somewhat via TV – which is a silly thing because it’s using a traditional channel to promote nontraditional ideas, but it’s a stepping stone. It’s the MasterCard “Create Your Own Campaign” idea. That’s moving forward. The pop-up shops. Some European brands and even some domestic brands and opened up a shop for a month or two or three provided an experience for products that people normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with. And it creates a tremendous word of mouth, a lot of buzz about that brand. Just by hearing about the brand it bumps up, and the Internet traffic increases. This is a simple example but, say, a new clothes hanger comes out and people want to find out what it looks like. They’ll go on the Internet. You get tremendous traffic. It’s these kinds of nontraditional ways of creating that word of mouth, that buzz, that impact as well as the experience of coming to the forefront.
So you’re arguing that these new forms of approaching consumers are likely to change how people feel about advertising?
Let’s turn to the movies and the stereotyped view of advertising that you get there, all the glitz and glamour, and lying. What is your reaction to that on TV or in the movies?
So it doesn’t seem to be about you then? Your job is just something other than what they’re talking about.
No. Yeah, it links itself to the used car salesmen idea: “How can I get you in this idea today?” It’s always a guy in jeans and a t-shirt. He’s got a basketball over here and a dart board over there and his feet up on the desk. It’s just not my department or my lifestyle, so it’s easy to step away from it. I can just laugh at it or say, “Oh, jeez.”
You work around people who do create commercials. Does the portrayal seem accurate to you?
What do you see instead?
They use piles of magazines and the Internet as well as plenty of research to generate the creative energy. If you’re a copywriter and you’ve got writer’s block, sometimes it takes a moment to step outside in order to collect yourself to be able to free yourself. So that’s what the ping pong tables and the dart boards and so on are there for. You need them if you’re pulling two all-nighters in a row. You need to figure something out. Those things are just outlets in the office in order to relax and possibly help yourself out. Every creative that I’ve ever worked with, they do have an artful style and lots of ideas and intellectual conversations, but I don’t think they have an easy job. They work hard. There’s more pressure on advertising agencies these days to get results than ever.
Do you have any other reactions to things in the document?
The perception of advertising is going to change. Bloggers are changing how we think about things in general; marketers are giving consumers the opportunity to interact if they want to. Experience is going to be key for brands moving forward.
When you say experience, what do you mean by that?
Giving people the opportunity to touch and feel and try and smell and hear. Obviously, it’s not going to work by having roving bands of people with products walking down the street. That’s not going to work, but doing it in a creative and nonintrusive manner will work. A lot of companies are creating environments for the consumer. You see it a lot at airports. They’re creating lounges that are branded — that provide a seat, an internet connection, an outlet for the consumer. It’s providing them an opportunity to come in and converse with your brand, even when they’re just lounging. It’s understanding what their life is like and talking to them about it. In Europe they have actual in-wall units that are cell phone lockers. A telecommunications company provides you a phone locker where you can plug in your cell phone into and recharge it. You just take your phone out when it’s finished charging. This is the type of thing that’s beginning to be provided. It could spread to the US. It leaves a positive image of the brand in the consumer’s mind.
10. Add Your Views about the Advertising Profession
Readers of this unit—students, professors, advertising professionals, and members of the public—are invited to post comments about the advertising profession. This is your opportunity to enter the conversation and to tell others what you think about the criticisms that have been leveled at advertising. In addition to posting your own comment, read the comments by others who have posted their views.
William M. O’Barr is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where he has taught since 1969. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Sociology and English. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern, Dalhousie, and Oxford Universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching by both the Duke University Alumni Association and Trinity College (Duke University). His course, Advertising and Society: Global Perspectives, is one of Duke’s most popular undergraduate courses. His many seminar courses include Advertising and Masculinity, Children and Advertising, and The Language of Advertising.
He is author or co-author of ten books, including Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising, Rules versus Relationships, and Just Words: Law, Language and Power. He has conducted anthropological research in East Africa, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his interest in social and cultural aspects of advertising, Professor O’Barr has researched law in a variety of cultural settings.
In 2000, he founded Advertising & Society Review and served as editor from 2000 to 2005. He is author of Advertising and Society — An Online Curriculum which will consist of 20 units published as supplements to AS&R.
1. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958).
2. Robert L. Heilbroner, Business Civilization in Decline (New York: Norton, 1976).
4. Quoted in Robert Andrews, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, 1993, 18.
5. Department of Advertising, The University of Texas at Austin, “Advertising Quotes,” fromhttp://advertising.utexas.edu/research/quotes/Q100.html on April 7, 2006.
6. Quoted in James B. Simpson, Contemporary Quotations, 1964, 82.
8. Kiran Aditham, “CEO & Chief Creative Officer Andreas Combuechen Clears the Air at Atmosphere” From http://www.adbumb.com/archives/2005/09/ceo_chief_creat.php on February 16, 2006.
Fig. 2. Copyright © 2006, The Gallup Organization. Reprinted with Permission.
Fig. 3. Nothing in Common, Dir. Garry Marshall, Columbia/TriStar © 1986.
Fig. 4. What Women Want, Dir. Nancy Meyers, Paramount Pictures © 2000; Bounce, Dir. Don Roos, Miramax Films © 2000; Sweet November, Dir. Pat O’Connor, Warner Bros. Pictures © 2001; Lover Come Back, Dir. Delbert Mann, Universal Studios © 1961; The Fighting Temptations, Dir. Jonathan Lynn, Paramount Pictures © 2003; Kate & Leopold, Dir. James Mangold, Miramax Films © 2001; How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Dir. Donald Petrie, Paramount Pictures © 2003; Picture Perfect, Dir. Glenn Gordon Caron, Twentieth Century Fox © 1997.
Fig. 5. Crazy People, Dir. Tony Bill, Paramount Pictures © 1990.
Fig. 6. The Fighting Temptations.
Each participant provided biographical notes.
On Creativity: “Everyone says they want big, creative ideas, but the real test is what you will sacrifice to get them. Will you put aside ego, will you be unselfish, will you be open-minded, will you be fair, will you be fearless?”
Nina started her advertising career as a writer in Richmond, Virginia, then migrated to New York in 1983 where she worked at two of the largest global agencies: first Y&R and then McCann Erickson. In 1991, she left McCann as a SVP, Group Creative Director to take the position of EVP, Executive Creative Director for J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago office. For three years, she was part of a turnaround team that breathed new life into that office by restructuring the creative process and doubling the revenue.
On Effective Advertising: “Creative people who thumb their noses at doing effective advertising are living in a dream world. Who wants to create ads that don’t move people, that don’t change the way people think or behave? Where’s the power in that? Where’s the glory? Do you think the MasterCard Priceless campaign, as brilliant as it is creatively, would be running for nine years if it wasn’t effective?”
In 1994, Nina returned to McCann Erickson’s New York office as EVP, Executive Creative Director. With the combined efforts of an exceptional New York team, McCann New York enjoyed an unprecedented five-year growth period that added over $2.5 billion dollars in billings to the New York office. In recognition of her contribution to this growth, Nina was made Chairman of McCann New York in 1998, retaining her creative duties as Chief Creative Officer. She was the first woman and the first creative director to be made Chairman in the McCann global network. The agency’s current client list includes MasterCard, Wendy’s, L’Oreal, Verizon Wireless, Johnson & Johnson, Kohl’s, Staples, Intel, and Avis.
On Teamwork: “Anyone who underestimates the importance of teamwork will be out of business in no time at all. When I ask men to tap into their female sides I’m suggesting they embrace the traits behaviorists generally think of as ‘female’ attributes: collaboration, empathy, relationship-building, nurturing...all aspects of teamwork. Some call this ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and it’s becoming the paradigm for effective leadership. Mothers and wives have been using these skills since the beginning of time.”
In 1999, Nina was chosen by Fortune Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business. In 2005, she received the coveted Matrix Award given each year to a select group of women who “are changing the world.” She has been serving as co-chairman on the Ad Council Campaign Review Committee for four years, she is one of four Vice-Chairmen for the Advertising Educational Foundation, she is on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Advertising Agencies and she serves on the Creative Review Committee for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In her spare time she takes care of a wonderful husband, two gifted Yorkies, a senile cat, and six beautiful horses.
John’s understanding of marketing strategy, market research and media make him an asset to any team and his efforts throughout the years have led to industry accolades including numerous Effie awards for advertising effectiveness.
Since returning to New York, Steve has helped create the advertising that launched Lucent Technologies, and has led the development of new campaigns for Verizon Wireless, AVIS, Budget, and Staples, among others.
Before Paris, Steve spent four years at McCann New York where he worked on Waterman Pens, Lufthansa, Alka-Seltzer and AT&T.
Steve has also garnered experience at Bozell, Young & Rubicam and Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample and the advertising department of CBS Records, where he got his start.
Steve graduated from Harvard University and is married with two children.