Since when did advertising become respectable?
The other day I was presenting at a conference on sustainability, and wondered what I was doing there. I clock up more air-miles than a rare bald headed eagle, have an unsustainable lifestyle, and don’t own a rainwater tank. Don’t get me wrong I was flattered to be asked to talk, and trust I contributed to the conference, but it got me thinking.
I can’t go past a discussion on a cultural, environmental, or societal issue these days without seeing an ‘ad-guy’ (and unfortunately it’s very often males) proffering their opinion on what will solve our latest ill.
Like it or not, the advertising industry is being pulled into all manner of communities with the hope they can solve the world’s issues. And like it or not, the world is now taking the ‘ad guy’ seriously.
So why is this happening? It’s probably due to a number of factors such as the exposure that advertising is getting through shows such as The Gruen Transfer, 30Seconds, and Mad Men. However, it’s more likely these shows are a by-product, and not the cause of the new found popularity of ‘ad guy’. It’s the ‘ad-guy’s’ time for a much more significant and more interesting reason. That reason is, information and its close cousin, rational debate has not worked.
We’ve just lived through the beautifully coined, ‘information age’. We have loads and loads of information, and we are all inter-connected, sharing all this wonderful information. And yet how much has this over-load of information really contributed to solving any of the world’s significant problems?
Did all of the financial information we had access to help us predict the global financial crisis (cutely branded the ‘GFC’)? No. With all this information can we make someone ride their bike to work and not drive a car? Can we convince a rich nation to give 10% of their wealth to a poor nation? Can we make men stop raping women? No, no and no. Information, and rational debate hasn’t answered any of these issues.
Where does one turn?
You turn to an industry that has managed to convince people to pay $10.00 for a beer, $1,000 for a new BBQ and $100,000 for a new car. You turn to an industry that’s made it normal to change your car every few years, your wardrobe every few months, and your toothbrush every few weeks.
Advertisers are seen as the masters of manipulation, and although they may not quite understand how their craft actually works, they know it gets results. Other industries are beginning to get curious, they want the ‘ad-guy’ to unbottle their tricks and help solve bigger issues. The do-gooders are getting into bed with the devil, potentially for the greater good?
Good because the advertising industry is full of very bright, creative, action orientated people who have learned the power of influence. They’ve learned how to change behaviour and how to appeal to people’s emotions, and not try and win arguments based on just information and fact.
And bad because I personally don’t want people trained to come up with a non-existent reason to buy one form of tomato sauce over another coming up with the solutions for problems that really matter; homelessness, the environment, income distribution inequality and mental health. Will their solutions really work? Will the ‘ad-guy’s’ involvement take us forwards or back? It takes more than a cool t-shirt to care.
As advertising gets pulled into problem solving for more and more areas of society the ethics of what we do, and how we do it should come under even greater scrutiny. These problems we increasingly get exposed to are not just another ‘creative opportunity’, they are an opportunity to make the world a better place, and should be treated as such.
Well done those who are starting out in advertising now, your moon, as they say, is rising. Your opinions will be devoured in mainstream media and at dinner parties alike. You may become the doctors of the modern age, curing the world of all ills (‘Eeek, could the messiah be an ad-guy)? To those not in advertising and want a quick fix to whatever your issue is just remember ‘the brighter the picture the darker the negative’ (that’s a quote from ‘Batman’ that even Don Draper would be proud of).
- Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist and founding partner of Naked Communications Australia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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