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June 12, 2012
The Reports of Advertising’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated
Isn’t advertising supposed to be dead by now?
I mean, wasn’t interactive, digital, social, or whatever supposed to kill off advertising? Wasn’t technology supposed to usher in a new era of creative that would be authentic and user driven?
So, what happened? Why is advertising still around and apparently not going anywhere? Because the talking heads don’t know what they are talking about. Or maybe they did know what they were talking about, and just didn’t care. Either way, they were shoveling a giant load of crap. That may not be fair. Maybe they simply don’t understand what advertising is.
Don’t laugh.
I’m beginning to think a lot of the advertising industry’s problems come from the fact that people don’t understand what “advertising” really is. And I am talking about those who work in the industry, too. Ask yourself, “What is advertising?” Of course you know what advertising is! Everyone understands what advertising is.

If that were true, no one would ever think that advertising is dying. Advertising cannot die. Hold on, before you rip me a new one, think about it: “What is advertising?”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines advertising as:
“The activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, as paid announcements in print, broadcast, or electronic media.”
Wikipedia says:
“Advertising is a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience (viewers, readers or listeners. Sometimes a specific group of people.) to continue or take some new action. Most commonly, the desired result is to drive consumer behavior with respect to a commercial offering, although political and ideological advertising is also common. The purpose of advertising may also be to reassure employees or shareholders that a company is viable or successful. Advertising messages are usually paid for by sponsors and viewed via various traditional media; including mass media such as newspaper, magazines, television commercial, radio advertisement, outdoor advertising or direct mail; or new media such as blogs and websites and text messages.” 
There are plenty of definitions for advertising, but they pretty much say the same thing — advertising is the paid promotion of a product, business, or service to encourage an audience to some type of action.
That’s all advertising is — a form of communication. And this is why advertising cannot die. How do you kill a form of communication?
Then what is it the talking heads are talking about? They are talking about media, and mediums can die. When was the last time you got a telegraph or smoke signal?
I have to go backward a little to go forward. Please indulge me for a second. A few years back, say about 30 years ago, the advertising industry started to segment itself. Some will claim it started back when we separated Public Relations from Advertising. (Yes, they used to be combined. I think, however, by definition PR is not advertising and vice versa.)
Anyway, when we began to segment, we found ourselves competing against each other for budget dollars. For many clients, it became an “either/or” situation. “Either” they spent their budgets with this medium “or” they spent it with that medium. We stopped offering clients solutions and started pushing whichever media we worked in.
Think I’m crazy? Look at the situation today; pick up any industry publication or read any trade website, and you’ll see social media proponents pushing their medium as the solution for every client problem under the sun.
The problem is not new or unique. It happened when radio began to rise over print and when TV rose over radio, but it was never this bad. In the past, agencies learned quickly to fold all the media into whatever solution they created for a client. They never lost sight of the fact that they were providing solutions first.
We are losing our way today. Many of us are focusing on the medium and not the message, and that devalues what we provide to our clients. It diminishes us all. Agencies have gone from being solution providers to order takers.
To distinguish ourselves from each other, we have been telling the world that the solution lies in the medium we represent instead of the solutions we provide. We are being shortsighted.
If anything should die, it is this type of thinking.
Look at where it has brought us. Agencies are ashamed to be called advertising agencies; clients think there is no real difference between shops; budgets are shrinking because we don’t provide anything unique; and the work itself is becoming weaker because our focus is elsewhere.
I understand and embrace the need for agencies, or whatever you want to call yourselves, to seek a way to stand out in a crowded marketplace. I would like to suggest, however, that instead of pushing a medium, you try selling solutions.
If agencies invested as much time and energy in creating unique solutions for their clients as they do in trying to convince people they are different from “advertising,” they might actually be viewed as being different.
The idea that we’re in the solution business should never die.

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Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, out of the big city of Columbia, S.C. He is on Twitter as @dereklwalker
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