Advertising died today, and it will die again tomorrow - and the next day

As Halloween approaches, I’ve been thinking about my costume quite a bit. I started wondering what could be the scariest thing I could go as this year? Pennywise? Leatherface? Getting close…pretty creepy. They’re all scary, but I really want to play in the back-from-the-dead arena. Zombies seem to be really popular right now. So I’ve decided to go as the most back-from-the-dead thing I can possibly think of: an ad guy (or girl).

Think about it. Who has died more times than an ad guy (or girl)? That’s a trick question because the answer is no one. Every time anything new is created that consumers enjoy, advertising dies. Read the trades and you’ll see it’s true. Print was great, but then radios were invented AND ADVERTISING DIED. Radio was replaced by TV AND ADVERTISING DIED. TV was replaced by the Internet AND ADVERTISING DIED. And that’s not even to count the smaller innovations (apps and SEO and social and AR and VR and cable and DVR, etc) that all killed advertising, too. We are the only people I know whose industry dies every time humanity moves forward.

So what exactly is advertising? Maybe we don’t really understand it, if we think it has died so many times…only to be shocked at its creepy crawling back from the grave. Google (who has single handedly killed and resurrected advertising more times than I can count) defines it as such:

ADVERTISE; to describe or draw attention to (a product, service, or event) in a public medium in order to promote sales or attendance.

Well. There you go. You can’t kill that. No matter how many silver bullets or stakes through the heart or decapitations you try. That is ingrained in humanity. That is more basic than lust.

So why do we all keep trying to kill it? I understand killing zombies. They kill people. But advertising doesn’t kill people (not directly, anyway). Is it just because advertising is such a dirty word? Is the word so crass and commercial and sell-y, that we’d rather kill an industry than say we’re part of it? If so, that’s sad.

I think it’s because those in the industry of advertising are good at advertising. That is to say, they are good at marketing products and creating compelling strategies and finding points of difference. So when we turn the lens of advertising on ourselves, we find that the best way to sell against a bunch of other advertising agencies is to not be an advertising agency. The snake is eating its own tail. Or the zombie is eating its own arm.

Think about it. As soon as radio was invented, an ad agency somewhere undoubtedly used all of its advertising prowess to talk about how print advertising was dead and how they were now a radio storytelling company. And they probably got a lot of business for adopting that positioning.

Advertising will never die. Just like the zombies punching through the doors in all those movies. Print lives. TV lives. Digital lives. No matter what article you read today or tomorrow or the next day, an ad guy (or girl) is the original walking dead; unkillable. Capitalism doesn’t work without advertising. I’m not even sure Democracy works without advertising.

So this Halloween, as you answer your door to lots of policemen and firemen and princesses and gymnasts and hockey-masked killers, keep an eye out for the suit-and-tied dangerous individual in the shadows who looks suspiciously like David Ogilvy, because no matter how hard you try, you‘ll never be able to kill him.

Advertising is dead. Long live advertising.

Joe Parrish is partner and chief creative officer at The Variable. He tweets @joeparrish

Joe Parrish

Joe Parrish is partner and chief creative officer at The Variable.

All by Joe