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How Advertising Lost its Relevance

Posted on August 27, 2011 and read 2,576 times

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jbp How Advertising Lost its RelevanceBrent Pulford
Owner/Operator
Right Brain, Creative Communications

Say what you will about advertising, it’s origins, the characters and charlatans who have practiced it, the geniuses whose ideas fundamentally changed the playing field, the impact of various media and each one’s unique ability to reach and touch consumers in meaningful ways, ads today are often side shows meant to distract from reality rather than enlighten and inform. And the reason for that is obvious. As media has grown more complex, as consumers have gained unprecedented access to information, as more and more corporations and their brands are exposed for being, at minimum, self serving, at worst, deceiving, most ads have next to zero credibility. That should have alarm bells ringing loud and long both for the agencies who help to craft the messages and for the corporations that continue to believe that a shiny new coat of paint, slick production values and a nod and a wink to some kind of socially relevant cause, is enough to restore tarnished or tired images, it doesn’t.

While some in the advertising industry recognize bells are tolling for them, the mega corps continue to skip gaily through the clover. And why wouldn’t they?  They quietly continue to post respectable profits regardless of what we know about them and their dubious practices. But that’s an indication of how massive and powerful these corporations are, not how effective their messaging is. Gone is the day that the consumer could vote with his wallet because in today’s world of giant holding companies, companies that own hundreds of other companies and brands, when you think you’re buying a competitive product it’s quite possible you’re purchasing another product from that same holding company’s portfolio of brands; we’re victims of the prevailing corporate strategy which is to own as many brands in a category as possible then know, that regardless of which one gets purchased, the coffers continue to be filled.

But knowing that doesn’t really matter. Unless you’re prepared to grow your own food or make your own clothes, you don’t have many alternatives. Some corporations are bigger than the governments meant to regulate them, which means they’re eminently capable of influencing legislation that favors their operation. That means that they can dominate the shelves in your favorite grocery stores, department stores and so on, block smaller competitors so that you have no choice but to buy their products because, theirs are what’s available. And economies of scale mean their prices are far more competitive. So, despite the fact that many of the clothes we wear are manufactured in sweat shops, that our food is picked and processed by illegal workers making less than minimum wage, we buy them because we don’t have a choice. The market is anything but free and if you don’t believe that then try and get a product launched on your own.

Competition then is largely non-existent in certain consumer goods categories, certainly less competitive than it might appear. I urge you to watch the clip below from the film Food Inc. and learn that food production in the US is essentially controlled by three giant conglomerates who have done an exceptional job of hiding their less than savoury stories. While it might be argued they compete among themselves it’s more accurate to say, like powerful warlords, they enjoy a peaceful coexistence. Each has their huge slice of the food production pie and don’t really encroach on the others’ territory. So why do these guys even bother with advertising? To keep you in the dark.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Advertising, once the most potent competitive tool in the marketer’s arsenal, is now a luxury that giant companies engage in to keep us believing that all is right with world, that we have more choice today than ever before, that there’s no need for alarm despite what the headlines and whistle blowers might suggest, that we remain distracted from disturbing realities. Sure, some alert us to valid price reductions, promotions and so on, keep us informed about this week’s special, but the kind of ads that come from pharmaceutical companies, oil companies and food companies are remarkable for their audacious denial of practices that have repeatedly produced suicide, accidental death and addiction (Pharma), massive ecological disasters (Oil) and foods not just absent of nutritional value but actually harmful. It’s propaganda as overt as anything that was produced in Soviet era Russia or Communist China – the kind of stuff that westerners once snickered at for its obviousness. In light of BP’s total ineptness in the Gulf of Mexico the ad below is truly a fine example of the most sophisticated corporate propaganda.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

What a waste of talent. Some of the most inventive, creative minds in business were nurtured and grown in advertising. Innovators, game changers and remarkably original thinkers were attracted to advertising because there was great respect for their talent. The best relationships between agencies and clients were built on trust, collaboration and mutual respect. The relationship between Weiden and Kennedy and Phil Knight, had it not been thus, couldn’t possibly have produced the Nike campaign that more than any other in recent memory, showed how muscular advertising could be. Advertising’s role in today’s marketplace has changed and not for the better. Rather than evolve, rather than seeing agency/client relationships mature and grow with the market, agencies are suppliers not collaborators; charged with filling in the blanks in a game of media whack-a-mole. As critical as I am of what passes for advertising today I don’t blame the writers, art directors, planners and so on for doing what’s asked of them. But given that the clients are increasingly using advertising and the people who work in it to disguise reality rather than capitalizing on their talent  to help develop solutions that might endear them to consumers, they are using them to propagate absurd myths. It’s a travesty that some of the best minds in the ad business are now, like Goebels’ gerbils in Nazi Germany, mouthpieces for the corporate Reichs in their quest for world domination.





  • http://twitter.com/Ad_Chickadee ★ Ad Chickadee ★

    Unfortunately it won’t let me watch the video – but good read.  I read a book many years ago about bio-engineering in the food industry – it was VERY scary.  Since then I make every attempt to buy organic and rather watch the food I consume.  I however am one of those rare people – when Amazon sold the how to pedophile guide & offered no apology and defending selling it – that’s when I stopped doing biz w/amazon.  When in 2008 Anthropologie emailed a reply to my resume, “Not at all qualified,” I promptly returned $500 worth of clothing I had just purchased and haven’t stepped foot in the store since.  They can advertise all they want.  Thing is I saw their ratty slip – and I’m not going back.  Ever.

  • http://twitter.com/maxrivest Max Rivest

    Wow, wicked article. Love the ending :D

    I do my best to not buy anything packaged in cardboard or plastic except
    for the ones I have to like yogurt, pasta, cheese etc but in terms of
    90% of my food I stick to the at least partly organic’ stuff. Pretty
    disappointing that were ruining ourselves and future generations’
    genetics with awful, nutrient-less foods that are packed with
    preservatives, fillers and enhancers. I guess all we can do as pawns is
    simply make better choices, because I can’t see any huge revolt against
    KFC/McDonalds/Kraft/etc happening any time soon…

    Personally I HATE it when people say ‘oh its ok i take multivitamins’…
    You dont need Vitamin C.. you need an orange. You dont need
    beta-keratine, you need a carrot. There are more hidden nutrients and
    great bioenergy in real foods from the earth. Our bodies are designed to
    be extremely efficient when our fuel is real, natural foods. Fuck, it
    only makes sense since we’ve been eating the stuff for tens of thousands
    of years. There weren’t any pizza pops in 5000 BC..

    People are blind; the less you know, the more you know. The more you
    know, the less you know. That’s why I love TED.com, keeps you asking
    questions.

    I have same video issues too, btw.

    http://maxrivest.com

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