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Advertising Can be Flashy and Authentic
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Over the years, advertising has developed quite the negative reputation. From its roots of giving consumers information about goods and services, people believe it has morphed into a propaganda, manipulation-churning machine. People believe that AdLand would prefer to be flashy over truthful, and that the goal is to pad the bottom line as quickly as possible rather than setting a message to attract true advocates for the brand.

Most of this banter comes from people outside of AdLand. But the sad thing is that most people inside don't object.

Freakonomics writer Steven Levitt, an economist by trade, offered some criticism of the advertising industry at a recent conference supported by SapientNitro. His key points, from the perspective of an economist, is that brands that work with agencies lack authenticity, that there is no reason for big brands to use agencies if they focus on being authentic, AdLand gives too much credit to focus groups, and that brands need to be a little more risky in order to be innovative.

Levitt, the economist, also cited Apple as being an example to follow in making products worth talking about. 

Apple, a brand that has worked with agency TBWA Worldwide for years. Some authenticity.

We are fans — big fans, actually — of Freakonomics, but we believe that Levitt's perspective (along with most) is somewhat misled in his judgment. First, we totally agree that brands have to step out of their comfort zones to produce authentic, creative work and messages. Brands, especially since the "Great Recession," have been so worried about doing something different; that coddled mindset has been passed down from the C-Suites to the marketing departments, all the way to those blasted flash-crazed agencies.

Once we get brands out of safety mode, then we can have a serious conversation. Nothing before.

As for the tired argument of authentic vs. flashy, we don't believe that one must exist without the other. We know we constantly bring up Old Spice, but W+K is cranking out some flashy and authentic material. Geico and the Martin Agency are doing good work, and AT&T with BBDO is creating spots with those kids that are absolutely hilarious. Perhaps we need an accurate definition of "flashy."

If he meant those ads solely to catch attention, like those "shock & awe" ads (GoDaddy, for example), then yes, we would agree that some brands sacrifice authenticity for attention. But we don't believe it's the norm.

The overall point is that both brands and agencies need to improve. Agencies must continue creating authentic and creative work so the more-than-casual observer can see that agencies are still valuable and needed. Brands need to realize that creating insightful and informative advertising can indeed retain and attract customers more effectively than one of its boring "tried-and-true" models.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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