"Advertising says to people, 'Here's what we've got. Here's what it'll do for you. Here's how to get it.'" - Leo Burnett
I've been in advertising for more than 15 years. I believe good advertising can enrich people, it can inspire them and I regard advertising as a noble profession. If there's a better way to showcase to people what your brand has to offer, explain the benefits and ways to get the product/service, I haven't experienced it. Nobody has.
So, why does Adland have such an image problem? Why do 76% of Americans think companies lie in ads? (2009 Yankelovich study) Why do people have problems trusting any of our communications? And, why are we starting to see real recruiting challenges in an economy nobody would describe as humming?
Some blame holding companies and their pure focus on shareholder value, rather than focusing on reinvention of the agency model. Some blame the compensation structure that rewards bodies and time, not great ideas. Some blame the split of media and creative. You ask people in the industry, everybody has a different explanation for the current state of the ad industry.
The problem goes much deeper
People have lost trust in institutions and business. And, let's be honest, businesses and institutions have betrayed that trust. BP, Enron, Vioxx, Facebook, Catholic Church, Congress, your local city government: We're surrounded by brands and institutions that betrayed us, lied to us, treated us like dumb sheep, acted like they were above the law. And advertising provides the background noise to that sad drama with exaggerated product claims and photo-shopped models. The threat to advertising and our industry is a threat to capitalism. And, just like advertising, I haven't seen a better system than the capitalistic system.
But, it's time to change both.
We need to make the advertising industry better. And, at the same, improve the overall capitalistic system. Just like capitalism, the advertising industry needs to cut its worst excesses or Uncle Sam will do it for us. (In case, you don't believe me: Have you seen the FTC proposal for a 'Do Not Track' option?)
Our future will not look like the past. The past was based on a model of industrial production, the new model will be based on a globalized, collaborative information model. It can't be about more stuff and pure growth. It has to be about being better, kinder, lovelier and inspiring. It can't be about targeting consumers, it has to be about collaborating with all of our stakeholders. Ultimately, we have to change our vision and mission of the advertising industry:
• Our main goal is to make the world a better place. Adding value, inspiring, enhancing life experiences. Making money is a by-product, not the overarching goal.
• A brand is developed by all stakeholders. Not the marketing department.
• Business is about fairness, joy and love. Not cut-throat competitive tactics.
• We work with human beings. Not human resources.
• We collaborate with competitors to enhance each other's products/services. Not buy them out to eliminate their intellectual work and the value they could have added.
• Customers are all people affected by the creation of the product or service. Not just end users.
• We will communicate values that brands stand for and live. And not some fake world that never existed.
Advertising has to help change the world. Not just change behavior for more consumption.
The belief that this is just a bump in the road and everything will get back to normal at one point is the biggest threat we're facing. The new normal will be completely different from the old normal. The demands and expectations on capitalism and our industry will grow, just like people expect more and more from brands and institutions. If you think the last decade was filled with change, you ain't seen nothing yet. Think about it:
• How ware we going to deal with India and China as the new dominant forces in the global economy?
• What are you going to do when your competitors 2015 come from Vietnam, Spain and Nigeria? Not New York and San Francisco.
• How will we replace dumb growth with smart growth?
• How will we strengthen our country's fiscal future while investing in our people?
• What types of jobs will we offer to people that had jobs that will never be replaced?
• How are we going to deal with the demographic challenge?
• How are we going to revive the middle class?
• (Insert 500 more urgent questions here.)
The next decade will bring a collision of forces that that threaten to disrupt the Western system, and call into question capitalism, a force on which our prosperity and stability have rested for decades. Forget the financial crisis, the debt crisis, all these political fights pundits tend to focus on. These are just precursors. We're facing graver economic challenges that are long-term and threaten capitalism as a model for the world. The stakes couldn't be higher: if we don't maneuver successfully through the coming storms, we'll face a major backlash against our economic model. If the world loses faith in capitalism's ability to improve the lives of everybody, we will have failed miserably and doomed the developing world to infinite poverty.
We really have no choice
All of us have to create a better form of capitalism. And our job as advertisers is to create a better form of advertising, and being a support pillar for the new, more human form of capitalism. We are building this new reality with every decision we make, with every ad we create, with every product purchase we make. For years, we mistakenly believed we had ascended to the zenith of modern capitalism. We knew all of the answers and just need to optimize a little bit here, increase efficiency there and everything would be fine. Events and facts taught us that the journey of capitalism might have just begun. And we need to ask that age-old question again: How can we make the world a better place?
Uwe Hook is the CEO and Co-Founder of BatesHook, Inc. (www.bateshook.com) and a veteran of the advertising and marketing industry with the goal of building connections between people and brands. Uwe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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