Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Consumer Bashing


I get asked about my career choice a lot. One of the best moments in my life thus far was the first time I got to say, “I work in advertising,” when asked by a stranger what I did. One of the worst was right after, when he replied, “So, you’re into lying to people for a living?”

It’s no secret that advertising isn’t highly regarded as a profession. I could say that I agree, and that would be easy. Certainly there is enough bad advertising out there for me to point at and say, “no that’s not me.” And I often do. I read Ad Busters, and sometimes I agree.

On the other hand, I think it’s important to call some things out.

First, chill out, because bad advertising is nothing new.

And, I empathize, I really do. That Toyota, “Saved by Zero” ad was one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever seen. But, it’s partly our fault as consumers that this happens. When we live in a country that freaks out over part of Janet Jackson’s nipple or with blogger moms offended by a Motrin campaign, it’s not exactly easy for agencies to convince their clients to go out on a limb creatively. Our society is just as much to blame for bad ads as advertisers themselves.

Second, people are really lazy. Consumers are so used to commercials putting information right in front of their faces, that they've grown to rely on it.

Standing in a CVS aisle looking for deodorant, apart from advertisements you’ve seen, how much independent knowledge do you have about the category? Almost none. Maybe you chose based on what your dad buys, the cheapest, the best looking label or the brand you’re used to—but you have almost no independent knowledge outside of what’s right in front of you other than ads. It’s like a 20-year-old shopping for wine. "Well I've heard of Yellow Tail..."

So, before you complain to me, just think about the last time you read up on toothpaste. I thought so.

Finally, not too many people pay for content. Anyone who has donated to Wikipedia can claim absolution here I suppose, but the rest of us just aren't supporting the things we like. We expect free, and ads come with that. Even on things like Facebook and Twitter, there’s no such thing as a free profile.

If you've made it this far without throwing your computer out a window, let me say, I’m not claiming that any of this makes up for all the evils of advertising, even if you do buy the “necessary evil” argument. Also, there is good advertising out there, and it’s worth your time. So go find an ad you love, and one you hate, then we can talk.

Edit: If you're still not convinced, check out some of these ads.