In the 1967 movie “Bedazzled”, the devil is in modern 60’s London, and he muses about the past: “There was a time when I used to get lots of ideas — I thought up the Seven Deadly Sins in one afternoon. The only thing I’ve come up with recently is advertising.”
I still haven’t watched “Mad Men” (PM me your outrage), but marketing’s reputation wasn’t helped by focusing on the misogynistic & ruthless dramas of ad men in the 1950’s.
These are just 2 examples of how our culture perceives the marketing industry for the last 60+ years.
Clearly, the marketing and advertising industry has not been great at PR’ing its own reputation. We are (sometimes) seen as a bunch of well-dressed people who ruthlessly help companies sell things. And this view is sometimes our own fault.
In Jane Caro’s book “Plain Speaking Jane”, Caro recounts a story where she worked on a pitch for a cigarette company, and she was relieved when she didn’t win it. She remains thankful to this day that she has never worked with a cigarette company.
As much as she wanted success and was driven to win every pitch, Caro is aware that the client’s product was problematic at best (“cancer, anyone?”), and her reputation is something she values, more than winning that pitch.
I’m not sure when agencies decided to stop working with cigarette companies. The late 80’s maybe? Changing cultural norms, increasing awareness of cancer causes and regulation on cigarette advertising played a part. But ultimately, agencies did work with cigarette companies while there was money to be made.
It’s a commercial reality. You work with a client and sell their product. In some cases, regardless of what that product is, even if it is a cancer-causing stick.
And this reality has tarnished the reputation of the marketing industry.
Consumers give us side-eye. There’s little reason for them to see any “good” in marketing.
I recently had a conversation about my occupation with a furniture delivery guy*. When I told him what I do, he went “oooh” – like the same “oooh” you get when you tell someone you advertise cigarettes.
I went on to tell him the type of customers I work with – that I work with like-minded people with ethics – that we won’t sell BS. Furniture delivery guy then did “the nod” – you know the one. It’s the nod when you’ve achieved acceptance and approval and he said “Oh, well, that’s alright then. Good for you.”
However, the that fact that I had to explain the KIND of marketer I am, was a sign that the word “marketer” has a negative association.
*Given this is a survey of 1 dude who delivers furniture, I concede, this may not be an accurate picture of the Australian public’s attitude towards our industry, but this is not just an isolated encounter.
Consumers give us side-eye. And we’re all aware of this negative perception.
This perception is also within the industry.
At networking meet-ups, I’ve met PR, creative and advertising people self-deprecatingly introduce themselves as someone who “uses my powers for good”. As if our day-job is to malevolently take over the world, one lie at a time, and then when we want to atone for our sins, we offer our services, ronin-like, to the small peasant village that needs protecting from bad men. I’ve done it myself. (Not protecting the village, the introduction as a “good” marketer).
We’re all aware of this negative perception.
I spoke to Nick Cummins from The Royals about my experience with the furniture delivery guy, and asked him about the reputation of marketing & advertising.
Ultimately, he says, the industry is just a facilitator:
“I remember my first not-for-profit ad, 25 years ago. I had a personal moment where I realised advertising is just a tool and it can be used for so much good.
Advertising has a bad wrap as we often roll out the same old stuff that can really treat people like idiots. Which is why we get the “oooh” reaction you talk about. But I feel that good advertising, quality advertising, has moved on from just yelling at people telling them what they need.
We know that doesn’t work anymore and good marketers understand you need to have a real conversation about something that you as a brand and the consumer share in common. And if you can find clients who get that, then it is a pleasure coming to work every day.”
Advertising is just a tool and it can be used for so much good.
Good marketing is about having a real conversation. Acknowledging truths, values and realities.
I think that’s why the “Say No to No” campaign is so needed within our industry. It isn’t about stopping a conversation, it is about the quality of that conversation. About the realities and truths about the industry.
It’s an acknowledgement that the industry is just a tool, but that there are values within the industry, which silently needed it. And “Say No to No” has showcased these values to a broader audience.
People outside of my marketing network saw this as a powerful and positive statement. A statement that’s garnered more respect for the industry.
We all have commercial realities to meet.
And advertising and marketing is innately emotive – it’s about evoking a response. But hatred and misinformation shouldn’t be a part of our schtick.
So go forth, fellow marketers. And tell your “good” marketing story in the best way you possibly can. There’s a furniture delivery guy out there that needs convincing.