May 27, 2009

Why They Think We're Idiots

If you've been in business for a while, you've probably noticed that a lot of people in finance, operations, production, and engineering think that we in marketing and advertising are one small step above reptiles.

They smile condescendingly when we talk. They give each other "the look" when we haul out our patter. They speak to us as if we're mildly retarded 8-year-olds.

Unfortunately, they have some good reasons for this.

We have a pretty remarkable track record of focusing on the wrong things. We get mesmerized by the most frivolous aspects of our business, by the shiny new objects, and ignore the important issues.

At the core of the practice of advertising lie some critical questions that all agencies should have a passionate point of view about. Here's one example -- is advertising most productive when it's focused on changing consumer attitudes or consumer behavior? What should the priority be? Does it differ by category? How should this affect our strategies and our work?

I don't see how you can even begin to create a campaign until you've answered these questions. And there are so many more that affect the efficacy of advertising and the productive use of our clients' money.

Yet, as I go through the websites and literature of ad agencies, I don't see any attempt to answer these questions -- or other questions of substance -- in a mature, serious fashion.

I find a cornucopia of cliches, a tsunami of jargon, a blizzard of bullshit, but I can't find a serious discussion on the truly significant issues that face advertisers.

Marketing managers at client organizations are no better. They not only let us get away with our glib baloney, they've adopted it themselves and are every bit our equal in spouting dreadful, impenetrable brand babble.

As I read the trades, and the blogs, and the websites, I can find a thousand facile opinions on the creation of a Facebook page, but almost nothing about the serious, fundamental questions that loom about the practice of advertising.

These days, there are profound concerns about advertising and marketing that need to be addressed. And all we do is blather on and on about Twitter.

A lot of serious business people think of us as idiots because, to a substantial degree, we deserve it.

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