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October 30, 2013
When Did 'Advertising' Become a Dirty Word?
Admitting we work in the biz might help improve it
This year, the ADDY awards in most cities are going to be formally renamed the American Advertising Awards. Sounds like a big deal, huh? Yet, it could very well be that the name chases away many potential award winners.
Why? Because these days, few people want to admit they work in advertising, or make any advertising.
So how did the word “advertising” get so unappealing?
There’s an old saying, “Don't tell my mother I'm in advertising. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.” And there’s a hint of realism in it. It’s a vocation that sounds lowbrow. Pedestrian. Dated. Yet most people still have ads they like, commercials they adore, brands they’re devoted to, stores they’re attracted to. All of which is the result of some form of advertising. No one’s immune to its power on one level or another.
These days, many advertising and marketing companies say, “We don’t do advertising.” Instead, they proclaim, “We do content. We do brand engagement. We do integrated communications. We do customer relationship marketing.” Or something else meant to sound more respectable than the ad biz.
Collectively, are we deluding ourselves? Are “content” or “engagement” or “integrated marketing communications” that much of an improvement in terminology? Descriptions like those make our industry sound needlessly complex, which is often the exact opposite of what we want our messages to be.
It doesn’t matter if you produce customer engagement tactics, digital experiences, or integrated marketing solutions — it’s advertising. Everything is an ad: The in-store experience. The corporate Twitter feed. Even a company’s job interviewing process serves as a piece of advertising for itself.
And yes, “personal branding” is advertising. People who leave their URLs at the end of a comment on an AdAge article or blog? Yes, they’re advertising. This column, too, represents a form of advertising for myself I’ve done for 11 years.
I’ve never had a problem saying I work in advertising, or that I make ads. Sometimes I write videos. Or brochures. Or emails. Or CEO speeches. But it’s all still advertising. Ironically, things like advertorials and infomercials have been given elevated status now that we’re calling them “native advertising.” Finally, the “a” word is added to make something more respectable.
So why do so many advertising professionals have trouble admitting what they do? We’re being paid by companies to promote their products or services in some form. Yet many of us lack the confidence to own up to that.
Perhaps if more advertising agencies, and advertising people, had the guts to admit what business they were in, they’d realize they have a simple purpose: working to increase sales and awareness for products and services. And perhaps then we wouldn’t see PR agencies or consulting firms itching to get into the advertising business because they see an additional revenue stream ripe for the picking.
It’s certainly a worthy goal for a company to say, “We’re an advertising agency,” when the advertising they do is smart, engaging, and provocative.
Being in advertising is nothing to be ashamed of. And admitting we work in the ad business shows we take responsibility for improving it every chance we get.

How about it, ad folks?

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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