This past week, a few of us here in the copywriting bullpen got into a discussion on the state of advertising. It was Angela T., our social media “Buzz Builder” who started it, calling to our attention a set of banners on the Spirit Airlines website. The banners were attempting to find humor in the gulf oil spill, something that isn’t even remotely funny, less so to Angela who’s originally from the coast.
Yet it got me thinking about what seems to me to be a decline in advertising generally. The industry is sliding away from clever selling and towards merely vulgar attention-getting. Obviously, a certain stripe of ad man (a stripe like me) has been railing against big budget “entertainment”-type advertising for decades. Yet I think something different has been happening in the industry lately. Traditional mass-media agencies are flailing, throwing everything they possibly can at the wall, hoping something will stick. How else to explain the Dockers’ bewildering “I Wear No Pants” campaign?
What we’re seeing, I think, is the traditional agency trying to stay relevant at a time when selling is declining as a marketing activity. To be sure, buying hasn’t stopped. People still love to buy. What they increasingly don’t like is being sold, hence the overall reduction in selling as it’s traditionally been defined, and the rise of branding.
No wonder so many traditional ad agencies are at a creative crisis point, racking their brains trying to come up with ever-more outrageous methods for garnering attention, under the mistaken assumption that what they’re doing constitutes branding. The reality is that any attention isn’t necessarily good attention for a brand (just ask BP). The dinosaur agencies of yesterday had better wise up, because the number of opportunities left to use the old tried-and-true mass media techniques is shrinking, fast. Meantime, creative, cost-effective opportunities for companies to differentiate and build brand continue to proliferate.
As a long-time marketer, I know which side of this particular fence I’d rather be on.