Advertising: Who Cares? Altogether Now

Last week the ad business came together to celebrate creative excellence at the annual Cannes Festival.

Or: last week the ad tech giants along with a number of circling bankers and assorted money men came together in Cannes to celebrate the takeover of the ad business by a combination of machines and mathmen.

Regardless of which Cannes you were at (I was at neither), the ad business is not in a good place. An industry built around creativity (in the broad sense), and the application of creative thinking to solve clients’ business problems, is being reduced to number chasing.

The issues we face are many.

It’s hard to recruit the brightest to an industry many find hard to define, and frankly rather boring.

It’s tough to explain how true objectivity in client recommendations can sit alongside the deals buyers make with media and tech vendors.

It’s not easy to make the case for access to boardrooms and for higher fees at a time when advertising effectiveness is confused with online metrics that are neither consistent nor independently verified.

It’s hard to persuade a client to trust you when certain behaviours are questioned across so many dimensions.

It is uncomfortable for marketers to justify putting more and more of their budgets into media forms that are not only largely devoid of professional content but who also take no responsibility for what appears. And to do so at a time when independent journalism is under threat.

None of these things are easy – and what makes it harder is the lack of open-ness in discussing them. The worry is that key players might with-hold their favours (or worse) from anyone daring to open up a discussion. It’s a strange and insecure business that cannot take criticism without resorting to insults and threats.

A couple of months ago Nick Manning and I decided to try to do something about this state of affairs.

It started with a blog post: Advertising: Who Cares?

Since then, we have been amazed at the level of support, whilst noting how some have misinterpreted our intentions.

This is what we’re trying to do.

We would like to make advertising and the advertising industry better for everyone. We are seeking solutions and ideas to help make this happen.

We believe in good advertising. Creatively what constitutes ‘good advertising’ is largely subjective but there are some pretty uncontroversial definitions. Good advertising:

  • Engages, informs, is relevant and responsible
  • Is respectful of its audience’s time, attention and privacy
  • Is accountable; and effective in building business
  • Contributes positively to the economy
  • Does not bombard the public and is not excessively intrusive
  • Is welcomed (or at worst tolerated) by the public
  • Funds high quality content (including high quality journalism) which in turn provides a suitable environment for advertising
  • Doesn’t harm the environment

Achieving these things requires care and the application of craft skills in the content of the ads, their placement and in their evaluation.

We believe in an advertising industry that uses these craft skills to make the advertising experience better for those buying it (clients), for those selling it (media vendors), and crucially for those consuming it (the public).

To do this the ad industry has to be accountable, transparent and responsible, and to be seen to be all of those things.

It needs to treat its people and the skills they bring to bear with respect.

It needs to appreciate that the cheapest deal is not always the best thing for the client. 50% off the wrong thing does not suddenly turn the wrong thing into the right thing.

We need to go back to providing employment with enjoyment. If we continue as now, we simply won’t attract talented people.

We need business models that reward success, not just that pay for the distance travelled. We are skilled consultants, not taxi drivers.

The large agencies are a critical part of this industry. They have more interest in its success than anyone.

They know as well as anyone that there are many issues faced by the industry. One fascinating aspect of the Who Cares? initiative has been the number of people mailing us from the holding companies’ media agencies, and from large vendors, supporting us, agreeing with our ambition and wishing us well whilst at the same time asking us to keep their names out of what we’re doing.

We are delighted to have them and to respect their request but at the same time we think it sad that they feel the need to do this.  

The Who Cares? effort crystallises at our launch event on September 12th in London at the RSA.

Over the past weeks we have established five workstream topics, each with a high-profile and respected leader and each open to supporters to join and contribute. On September 12th we’ll hear their positive, creative suggestions as to how to improve across all five topic areas.

We will also hear from creative and media agency leaders, and from clients.

There’ll be no whinging, no finger-pointing, no apportioning of blame. We all know the issues; what we are looking for are solutions.

There’ll also be no sponsorship – we aim for an open discussion without fear or favour.

Of course, one event won’t fix it. We hope we’ll start various balls rolling towards our aim to make the industry a better place.

If you’re interested in what we’re doing, if you want to join us on the day, or if you would just like to be kept informed as to what happens next you can find all details on our website:

We need to come together to fix the industry. We won’t do that by fighting amongst ourselves.

It really is a matter of ‘altogether now’.

  1. great Initiative Brian . in order to drive these things we need to increase awareness and show a clear path forward. we cant do that without dialogue, agreement on change and leadership. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Barry! And for your support…

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