In defence of advertising - a response to Nadya Powell's break-up letter to the industry

Paul Phillips, MD of the AAR

The first time I read Nadya’s article ‘I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me’, I thought this is explosive stuff and bugger the consequences.

The second time I read it, I thought there’s more than a grain of truth in what Nadya claims, but it’s not totally reflective of the world of advertising I recognise.

Then on the third reading I decided to write this, because I think those of us who work in advertising have a responsibility to defend and champion it.

For what feels like too long now, advertising has come under attack, been the whipping boy, the easy target from without and within.

First it was the management consultancies who had the ear of the CEO and coveted seat at the top table.

Next it was the turn of big data and anyone who claimed to be able to collect, manage, organise and interpret it that seemed to continuously grab the headlines and own the conversation, often at the expense of advertising. Mass communication was to be a thing of the past, it was all about one to one personalisation.

Then it felt like any new agency with a digital centre of gravity was proclaiming the death of advertising and everything could be sorted with an app and some content (maybe an exaggeration but if Nadya can then why can’t I?).

When did advertising become the enemy? And why?

Surely it’s not a case of either or?

And do the best in our industry not have a contribution to make?

Take a look at any list of top 10 planners or suits and top 20 creative leaders.

I’ve been lucky enough to see every one of these people in action, doing their thing, being their best and let me tell you…

They are brilliant, amazing, inspiring, intelligent, insightful, entertaining, amusing, ambitious (for themselves, yes, but for their clients, definitely) and generally honourable people who are trying to create the best work they can.

For their clients, for their agencies and, yes, for themselves.

And if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with that.

And more importantly, if you ask their clients, the brand owners on whose behalf their work is crafted, I think they’d agree.

Is advertising perfect? Does it get everything right? Of course not.

Can it learn from others? Clearly. And the best are trying to.

It’s been over 20 years since I worked in an agency and nearly 30 years since I worked in an advertising agency, so I’m not best placed to take up the gauntlet.

But I do take issue with Nadya’s claims that: "You don’t have any dreams anymore" – What about the John Lewis Christmas ads?

"You have a new love. And she's called data." – Advertising’s first love is ideas.

"Nobody wants to hang out with you" – This is simply wrong and doesn’t do any credit to the bigger point Nadya is trying to make.

"Your new 'friends' think you talk shit too" – A friend will tell you you’re talking shit, not tell everyone else other than you.

"You can't stop looking in the mirror" – OK, so you might have a point here, but who in our business (or indeed any business, or indeed life) doesn’t suffer from a degree of vanity?

"You have no balls and no imagination" – You have no idea what you’re talking about, because if you did, I think you’d be smart enough to recognise this isn’t true.

"You have no moral compass" – Again you’re accusing the industry with a sweeping statement that, in my experience, is wrong.

"I'll be much happier single" – You may not have a choice.

"But I'm willing to do couples counselling" – Good luck.

So there you have it. Not perhaps the most eloquent defence of advertising, but it’s what I think.

And if there’s anyone else prepared and willing to take up the gauntlet, you’ll have my support and that of many others, I suspect.

Paul Phillips is the managing director of the AAR

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