Do you believe in advertising?

Andrew Carty on why a crisis in confidence is a bigger problem than shrinking budgets or fractured media.


By Andrew Carty

If you’ve read anything about this business today, it’s that we’re all in serious shit.

I don’t disagree. But I don’t believe it’s because we’re not keeping up with the times, that millennials don’t want to buy things, or that technology is eating us alive.

The biggest trouble with our business today isn’t the fracturing of media, it isn’t “clutter” or budgets. It’s a crisis in confidence in advertising’s fundamental role in the world: to sell stuff.

We live in an era with unbelievable products. We also live in an era where many of these products basically sell themselves. Companies like Apple, Uber and Starbucks not only have a virtually ubiquitous presence in the lives of city dwellers, they’re the darlings of the media – they make their own news.

They’re great companies, and they’re super fun to work on. But most of the time we don’t work on them. We work on everyday products with real challenges, and we’ll have to figure out how to sell them.

If you’re uncomfortable with that idea, then you don’t believe in advertising.

Do you think all brands should act more like tech companies? Go work in tech. Do you think a brand should have a purpose? Go work for a charity. Do you think brands should start a conversation? Call your mom.

Sure, those are things you can do – and sometimes you should do – but first let’s focus on creating desire for our clients’ stuff. That’s what we do. We sell things. And if you don’t believe that, you don’t believe in advertising.

It’s not just creative agencies that need to think this way.

Stop buying crappy media

We need help from our media comrades. There are lots of media choices out there. Buying the cheapest, and most efficient, isn’t always the best idea. You probably don’t buy the cheapest and most efficient thing in other markets, because it’s usually not very good. Banner ads run where people never see them and are served to people way after they’ve bought a category. About one in a quarter-million banner impressions results in a human click. And that click might be an accident! I have the math – seriously, call me, I’ll show it to you.

People think we have to advertise in digital because “that’s where people are now.” People are also in parks. Don’t advertise in parks.

If it’s all you can afford, don’t do it for that reason. It’s like buying Scope to get drunk.

Or “because it’s new” – don’t do it for that reason. There’s a sickness in the ad world of the idolatry of the new. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s good.

Let’s figure out what really works, where people are, where they can be influenced, and use these spaces to communicate really compelling ideas.

Don’t pay for research to cast doubt on what you know

Then there’s research.

Research is so powerful in shaping great ideas. So often in this business we spend a ton of money asking people their opinions. Not when it matters – before we get started – but right at the end, when we’ve already made a bunch of decisions, and we just want consumers to tell us we’re right.

Here’s the problem with the typical focus group. You’re talking to people who are willing to take a couple hours out of their afternoon for $100. And you’re asking them to make the decisions that will affect how a lot of smart people will spend millions of dollars. Does that make sense?

Then we say we’re going to show them something that we hope will convince them to part with their hard-earned money. In essence, that we’re going to show them something that will outsmart them. What’s their response? Of course it isn’t “you got me,” “you outwitted me,” “here’s my money.” It’s “sorry, it’s not convincing,” “I’m smarter than you.”

We need to rethink how we use research. Because it’s always going to be hard for someone to react to something they’ve never seen before and tell you how it’s going to make them behave (and do that in front of a bunch of strangers they’re trying to show off for). Let’s use research to illuminate, and clarify, not to determine if an ad is to someone’s personal taste.

Believe in advertising, believe in your ability as a marketer or agency, and make some great, powerful work. This is a great business. We get to employ the power of creativity to make people consider or reconsider brands and products. It’s powerful. It’s the grease in the world that’s made the healthiest, happiest society that’s ever existed. It has built tiny companies into global brands contributing the world over.

Advertising is amazing. But we have to believe in it.

So stop thinking a product isn’t good or interesting enough, stop researching the same way and making work so obvious and dull you wouldn’t want to show it to your neighbour. Stop buying shitty media because it’s cheap and efficient.

Believe in great advertising.

And if you do, fractured media, accelerated culture, clutter, millennials, small budgets – whatever the hell we’re blaming the demise of this business on this week – won’t matter anymore. Today, great ideas travel the world; let’s make them here in Canada.

Andrea Carty Photo


Andrew Carty is partner, strategy, at Send+Receive, a start-up agency in Toronto.







Featured image via Shutterstock