May 31, 2011

Advertising's Creative Extinction

According to biologists, over 99.9% of all the animal species that have ever existed on Earth are now extinct.

The causes of extinctions are manifold. During the history of life on Earth there have been several instances of mass extinctions caused by natural disasters. Some extinctions have been caused by devastating diseases. Recently, humans have been responsible for extinctions. Some extinctions occur when species are no longer adequately adapted to environmental conditions and reach an evolutionary dead end.

I believe advertising is reaching an evolutionary creative dead end.

For over 50 years the TV commercial has been the dominant type of advertising life-form. It has thrived and, while mostly mediocre, at times it has brought us a profusion of brilliance and imagination.

Today, however, one has only to spend an evening in front of the television to see that the form is moribund.

It reminds me of rock music in the 90's. Everything I heard reminded me of something I had heard before. It was pretty clear that new ideas had to appear or the form would die.

Unfortunately, what is evolving in the advertising world seems to be an even more emphatic creative dead end. Intelligent people can disagree about the effectiveness of online advertising. But I don't see how anyone can be anything but dismayed at the dismal absence of charm, artistry and imagination in most online advertising.

Is advertising creativity really going to devolve into writing meta tags for search and brain-dead tweets? Is the future of advertising really asinine YouTube videos and invisible display ads and the pathetic neediness of Facebook "likes?"

It was not that long ago that TV commercials were a subject that people enjoyed talking about and, yes, enjoyed complaining about. Have you ever had someone ask you, "Did you see that listing on Google last night?" or, "I saw a hilarious Facebook page yesterday." People don't even care enough to complain about online advertising.

The web has proven to be a very fertile incubator for all types of creativity, with one very big, very disheartening exception.

Contrary to all the nonsense propagated by pundits over the past few years, advertising is in no danger of going extinct. But, alas, advertising creativity -- the one thing that makes working in this business tolerable -- is.

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