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May 28, 2008
Advertising, Now That's Low

Advertising is not a highly regarded profession. In fact, advertising ranks just a notch above used-car salesman. Some would argue that it should be the other way around. No one in the ad industry will be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon.

So why does the advertising profession get such low marks? Because as an industry, we deserve all the harsh criticism leveled at us. Throw the tomatoes. We need to do better. Every day we find new ways to let the American public down.

Let’s be honest. Most ads are crap. They talk to consumers as if they are complete idiots. Ads are often condescending or unimaginative or obnoxious. TiVo exists because people don’t want to sit through another barrage of erection cures featuring a middle-aged guy throwing a football through a tire swing.

Most ads reflect a make-believe client world where customers go ape-shit over everyday products like toothpaste and hammers. People can smell a fake a mile away, and they don’t like it. Nobody really believes that buying new-and-improved laundry detergent is going to eradicate life’s biggest problems. But the ad industry hasn’t seemed to notice.

Some ads are misleading. One minute you think a celebrity endorses a line of crackers only to read on TMZ that Woody Allen is suing the brand for using his likeness without his permission. Or maybe you think that pickup truck can really tow 50 telephone poles until the third viewing when you see “dramatization” in small type.

Many ads are deceptive. Ever wonder why the voice-over guy talks so fast in the disclaimer copy at the end of the commercial? Maybe there’s something he doesn’t really want us to know. Like how much those cell phone minutes are really going to cost.

Here’s a thought on how advertising could move up a few notches: Tell the truth. Tell the truth in a way that inspires rather than dulls the mind like a double scotch. Tell the truth in a way that reflects real life, not an advertiser’s pipe dream. Tell the truth in a way that gives customers credit for their intelligence, rather than treats them as if they all have room temperature IQs. Remember that consumers appreciate creativity. They like to laugh. They can put two and two together.

There are still some shining examples of what advertising can be when done right. I think of the Mac commercials that show the personas of Mac and PC. The Mac work is smart and simple and clever. It communicates a clear point of difference. The commercials are usually as entertaining as the television program I am watching.

Unfortunately, Apple is the exception. And things are only going to get worse. Because advertisers have discovered they can run ads everywhere. You might see a jewelry ad on the bottom of a shoe bin at airport security. You might see a logo for vitamin water tattooed on somebody’s shoulder. Soon the moon will be up for sale. Time to run.

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As both CEO and chief creative officer of Barkley, Brian Brooker stands behind the power of ideas that drive business. Work under Brian’s guidance has garnered recognition in Communication Arts Ad Annual, The One Show, Cannes International Advertising Festival, and the ADDYs, among others. Barkley is one of the top 10  independent agencies in the U.S., with clients including Build-A-Bear Workshop, Helzberg Diamonds, and March of Dimes.

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