Doug Garnett’s Blog


Squirrel! Advertising Agencies Chase Utopian Theories

There’s nobody easier to sell to than other salesmen. Unless, of course, you’re promising a consumer revolution to advertising agencies. Then, stand back and let the stampede commence!

I was reminded of this recently by the promotion for a communication conference. It opens as follows:

THE GREAT DISRUPTION – The consumer strikes back. 

For decades new technologies and media consolidation overwhelmed viewers and readers with new platform options, countless channels, confusing dials, settings and features no one asked to get. Now, the ’disrupted’ consumer is the one disrupting old media and ad institutions. The agency is scrambling to remain relevant in a world where consumers ignore ads and work their social networks to make decisions. They are fleeing the desktop for mobile media faster than content and marketers can keep up. Their love of time-shifting and multi-screen multi-tasking has attracted a mob of tech, media and digital companies all skirmishing for their attention as all platforms seem to converge in the living room. Technologies are no longer the great disruptors; the consumer is.

Recent email promoting the Online Media Marketing Association conference

Sound familiar? It should. It reflects group think found in many corners of the advertising biz and featured in a recent Fast Company article. Sadly, this group think is rampant among people who are paid enough that they should know better.

It seems to me, though, that ideas like this get their power in the advertising industry because agencies dislike the idea that they are selling things. All this “power to the consumer” and “consumer revolution” group think seems to be popular because it is anti-salesmanship.

It doesn’t matter that the ONLY reason that their jobs (advertising roles) exist is to help companies sell things to their consumers. It doesn’t matter whether we are in brand advertising, social media, online content creation, retail, display, outdoor or hard core direct response – everything we do is about selling goods to people.

Perhaps this reality is too hard to accept when you have an elite training at an art or portfolio school. Not liking the reality, it’s much nicer for a 20-something (or 40-something) to get excited about some nearly utopian mythology implying companies who become social butterflies will see their goods whisked off the shelf. (These theories usually help agencies make themselves rich while accomplishing little for their clients.)

My tendency is to respond with a tough message: Deal with it or get out. Truth is, you shouldn’t be in advertising unless you are dedicated to selling goods (today or in the future).

That doesn’t mean we’re sharks – it means we know our value to our clients. What advertising does is important and valuable – to people, to consumers, and to the economy. Our work creates jobs at companies (desperately needed jobs) in manufacturing, engineering, accounting, and more. Our work helps connect consumers with products they love. Well executed, our work builds a strong foundation for companies to thrive.

Of particular interest, the claims in the OMMA statement flat out aren’t true. So, for anyone who wants, I’ve posted a line-by-line deconstruction of the comments.

Why write all this? Advertising is important work to the country and our economy. It deserves better than this AdBuster-driven self-loathing.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Categories:   Brand Advertising, Communication, Consumer Electronics, consumer goods, consumer marketing, convergence, Direct Response, Human Tech, Innovation, internet convergence, marketing, Media, Social Media, Technology Advertising, technology marketing


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