Taking pride in advertising

It’s been a good week for being proud.  In addition to the Diamond Jubilee festivities and England’s victory over Belgium, our own celebration of excellence – the Thinkbox TV Planning Awards – took place last week.  I couldn’t have been more proud of all 73 writers of the entries, the 20 short-listed papers (particularly the highly commended one), the 6 category winners and the ultimate Grand Prix winner. 

I was proud because they were proud; proud of using advertising to deliver great results for their clients.  They weren’t ashamed of using lots of paid-for media, including TV of course, and they had proved the effectiveness and payback of it with hard evidence.

The previous two weeks had not been so glorious.  Far from being proud of advertising  it seemed like our industry was addicted to rubbishing itself, predicting its own death and was without anyone prepared to defend it.  Advertising-deniers one and all.

First had come an article in Wired magazine, titled ‘A public announcement: advertising is over’ written by Stefan Olander, VP of digital sport at Nike, and Ajaz Ahmed, founder of AKQA. I am not publishing a link as frankly I don’t wish to give it any more readers, but I’m sure you can find it if you want to.  It not only rubbished the need for advertising with advice such as ‘Planning a startup and wondering how much of your limited budget to allocate to traditional advertising? We have no doubt of the answer: nothing.’ it went on to denigrate advertising’s integrity in various ways.  Here’s a typical passage: ‘For the consumer, digital has changed things even more drastically. The phone is the passport to everything advertising was designed to obscure — which is to say, the truth. Fifteen years ago, the only way to differentiate between brands of washing-up liquid was to fall for the claims made for them in their ads.

So, not content with slagging off advertising the article managed to insult the intelligence of the general public too.  And it ironically appeared under and next to a variety of online display ads on Wired’s website.  Who knows; maybe some of them had been created by teams at AKQA?  Certainly, without that paid-for display advertising Wired would have struggled to offer them a platform through which to promote their new book.

Having read it, I waited for the inevitable vigorous and withering rebuttal from one of the various bodies which represents advertising in the UK.  Nope.  Nothing.  The IPA actually tweeted a link to the article with no comment or context at all.  I understand that the industry is anxious to embrace all forms of brand communication, including those exclusively advocated in the article (WOM, social, community, viral distribution etc) but I trust it still believes in crafted paid-for advertising.

The following week I attended Media360.  The chair of the conference was my ex-colleague, all-round nice guy and smart thinker, Jon Wilkins, founder of Naked.  His opening remarks included such gems as ‘no-one watches TV ads any more’ and ‘in two years’ time there will be no paid-for advertising industry’.

The room was full of people from agencies, outdoor companies, newspapers and radio.  Jon provided no evidence for his comments (I guess because none exists) and should have been soundly ridiculed for such guff, yet no-one in the room challenged him.  The fact that the next two days were full of marketers talking about the success that paid-for advertising had contributed to for their brands (including John Lewis and BA) didn’t shame Jon into apologising or reconsidering his rhetoric in the slightest.

Have we all become appeasers of these frankly dangerous and destructive theorists?  Are we all too embarrassed to defend the insultingly named ‘traditional’ advertising?  Are we so anxious to appear ‘cool’ that we are prepared to let our core businesses be undermined?

Being proud of what advertising can do doesn’t mean we’re saying great products aren’t more important nor that earned media isn’t valuable. But then hopefully we don’t think in a binary way do we, unlike advertising’s detractors?  The only way to defend advertising against this tide of bullshit is with facts and evidence.  We spend a lot of time amassing that at Thinkbox as do the other media trade bodies, the IPA and the AA.  Please use it.

I’m incredibly proud of what TV advertising can do for those short-listed companies last week: for technology companies like Google and Microsoft, new businesses like Hotwire.com and FindMyPast.com, and ethical retailers like John Lewis, M&S and the Co-operative.  Three of the short-listed entries last week were charities (Marie Curie, Barnardo’s) and one of them, Save the Children, won the Grand Prix.  Spending money on advertising to raise even more money for good causes; there’s no better reason to be proud of advertising.

So please don’t leave me as a solitary harridan, nagging my way into everybody’s bad books. Help me call time on the Emperor’s new clothes.  Challenge the deniers.  Nip the bollocks in the bud.  Join me in standing up for what we do – with pride.

  • Tess Alps
    Tess Alps
    Chair, Thinkbox
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