Advertising: Who Cares? Redressing the Balance

Since Nick Manning and I started what has become the Who Cares? movement we have been asked by various people what our motivation is, and why such a thing is necessary.

The motivation bit is easy. We’ve both had long careers in advertising; and we’ve both had a great time. Further we both retain an enthusiasm for the business, tempered by a real worry that it is losing its power, influence and popularity. And, underpinning all of these it’s losing its attractiveness as a career.

Why is Who Cares? necessary?

Nick and I both write a fair bit – blogs, articles, conference speeches and so on. We’ve found ourselves writing about largely the same things.

The marketing industry is responsible for one of the world’s largest criminal enterprises; ad fraud is yet to overtake drug trafficking in the league table of bad guys, but the suspicion is we’re edging closer.

The agency world and their clients waste huge amounts of money. The more we waste, the less likely anyone in any position to do anything about it is to call it out.

Add in principal-based buying (broking as it used to be called), a lack of transparency in trading, the neutering of planning, the silence around deals done by the agency and sold on to the client, unverified audience research, poor data masquerading as valuable insights, problems in recruitment, lack of motivation within agencies and you end up with an unhappy industry staffed by unfulfilled people.

All of this is well-known, if only we would admit it.

Our lightbulb moment was to realise that this isn’t just some geeky adtech matter impacting media agencies.

We are as an industry producing large volumes of poor ads; poor ads don’t work; and it’s not a huge leap to go from there to asking why anyone would spend anything on ads that don’t work?

It is a reasonable question to ask why it is that few if any of these topics are being discussed at the Cannes Festival of Creativity this coming week. But they’re not; and if by chance any do come up it will be with an air of mutual congratulation that we’ve fixed the issue.

But we haven’t, and we know we haven’t.

The best ads have always emerged from teams. Media planners and strategists are key team members. Yet their thinking and input is often minimised – by the physical division between media and creative agencies, and shamefully by their own bosses and the deals they make.

The irony is that media agencies, in the UK at least, emerged from an inequality in full-service agencies.

If creative was king, media was well down below the salt.

In the 1970s a few farsighted entrepreneurs took a risk and laid the foundations for the media buying (later planning and buying) industry.

The full-service model was unbalanced. The old joke was that the client presentation was 75% about where to hold the shoot; 24% about who would be in the film; and 1% (typically the 5 minutes before lunch) rather grudgingly spent discussing where the ads would appear and at what cost.

With a few exceptions most clients were uncomfortable discussing creative. It’s ungraspable, unquantifiable, soft not hard, opinion not fact. They loved mixing with the stars, but most were out of their comfort zone.

Of course there were exceptions – brilliant creative thinkers, happy to look past headline research numbers, and confident in their ability to sell an idea to their management.

How different from today.

Media today is exactly in the client’s comfort zone. It’s facts, numbers, measured, precise, graspable, absolute.

Except when it isn’t.

And increasingly it definitely isn’t.

None of us feel comfortable when something we consider immovable moves; something solid dissolves; something visible disappears.

When this happens, we try to pass it off as someone else’s problem. We rarely admit that it’s us that has caused it.

Take one small, relatively uncontentious example.

Why do we persist in thinking that an ad has truly been exposed after two seconds? Surely that’s starting at the wrong end. “How long do people typically spend looking at an ad on our channel? Two seconds? Well go off and prove that two seconds is all anyone needs”.

It’s upside down logic, start with the answer then work out the question.

Who Cares? has no ambition to rubbish technology, online media, social channels, TV, or anything else. There are plenty of events that seek to sell you something by rubbishing something else.

Rather we want to have an open discussion, based on experiences and evidence. And from that start-point to look for solutions. We are putting on a half day (afternoon) event at the RSA in London on September 12th to try to start to find some.

We want every side of the industry, holding companies, independents, analysts, journalists (an unhealthy ad market isn’t great news for them either), tech businesses, platforms, to attend. They all have much to contribute.

We are very grateful to have persuaded (dragooned…) Jenny Biggam, Michael Farmer, Ruben Schreurs, Denise Turner and Crispin Reed to help us.

Whinging is banned (that’s what blogs are for); creative thinking is the order of the day.

We are trying to do our bit to redress the balance from mathmen towards madmen.

You can help us by buying a ticket ( We aren’t making a penny from it, any balance will go to NABS, any shortfall will be picked up by us.

Why are we doing it?

We feel someone has to, and Nick Manning and I are both at that stage when we can try to do something good for the industry.

Who Cares? We think more people than perhaps you think.


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