Are we embarrassed by the 'A' word? The Drum Advertising Awards asks the industry


By Dani Gibson | Senior Writer

September 11, 2018 | 7 min read

As the A-word (advertising) appears to have all but disappeared from the industry’s vocabulary, advertisers want transparency, accountability and efficiency, putting the advertising under greater scrutiny than ever before.

In a recent interview with The Drum, Turner prize winning artist Grayson Perry said: “A lot of people in the art world think that things like advertising is a bit dirty, bit grubby. Art and advertising both are about selling products. How can that be dirty?”

As most industries, advertising is evolving, it is being disrupted. But as an industry, are people struggling to prove value because they are not taking pride in their own product? How can ‘advertising’ be reclaimed?

The Drum spoke to three industry experts from Facebook, Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson London on what they think has happened to the A-word.

Jo Wallace, creative director, J. Walter Thompson London

A is for arrogant, apologetic, account led, all things to all people and awareness because I suspect they’re all, in part, responsible for dulling the shine when it comes to the word advertising.

Arrogant - it’s often not regarded as a positive trait but the opposite of arrogant is no more appealing either. Who wants to work with an apologetic bunch of experts? Why have we lost our certainty in our expertise? All too often we’ll find ourselves apologizing for ‘getting the brief wrong’ when actually we know exactly what’s right for the brief, we’ve just stopped being so sure of ourselves and telling the client that.

Is this because of the rise of account led agencies? Is the Pope Catholic? (Yes, and he doesn’t apologise for it either. Nor pretend he actually also specialises in the Quran. In digital. Shopper. And data driven, storytelling, content centric formats). Because when you try to be all things to all people you lose your expertise. We constantly tell clients that to effectively communicate you must have one simple message and yet (to really stretch the Pope analogy) we rarely practice what we preach.

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My 14-year-old niece came into work with me recently. I briefly told her about a brand-new product we’re launching, and how we need to let people know about it. Her response? “If you sent that product to Kim Kardashian, millions of people would know about it.” She wasn’t even joking.

Advertising – the kind with an idea, a strategy and a craft - isn’t a part of her world. She has no awareness of brilliant, intelligent, crafted advertising. Yet she has total awareness of a blatant, simple, product placement. Isn’t this the absolute basics of advertising? The likes of Kim Kardashian are kicking our (less defined) butts.

And I think that’s what I’m embarrassed about more than anything else.

Mick Mahoney, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather

My working philosophy is simple. And it has served me well throughout my career. All roads lead to the work. Every decision I make is predicated on it. I believe that everyone in an agency is there in service of it. The work is what people talk about. It’s the business advantage for our clients. It’s how we judge ourselves and other agencies. Its ultimately where our value lies

Advertising is a manufacturing business not a service business. We make a product. An advertising product. Now, that product can vary wildly, but it is still a product. We produce our ideas. And to produce the very best ones everyone involved has to take a huge amount of pride in them. From clients to planners to creatives and so on. It doesn’t happen otherwise. Everyone needs to care that the work is brilliant and give everything to ensuring that it is.

The purpose of that product is to help sell things. If that feels a bit grubby to you then I suggest you’re in the wrong industry. Advertising is the intersection of art and commerce. It’s a commercial enterprise creatively executed. Advertising agencies are businesses. The skill is in making money as a business whilst at the same time creating and producing the very best ideas.

I think people feel advertising is a bit grubby when the work isn’t good. When the balance of commerce outweighs art. When we cease to be entertaining, interesting or original and just become blunt sales instruments.

For advertising to reclaim its collective sense of pride it needs to believe once again that all roads lead to the work. It needs to put the work at the heart of all its endeavours.

Elizabeth Valleau, global creative strategist, AR specialist, Facebook London

My first time at the Gutter Bar in Cannes, a fellow creative director hiccupped in my ear... "We all just want to be famous, kid… but no one actually likes what we do. Advertising is not art. It's A trade." This statement haunts and sobers me. As creatives, our solipsism can be dangerous. We can be artistic, even inspired... but to many we are simply salesmen. At its best, our work can absolutely educate, inspire and provoke positive social change, but these are bolts of light through chinks in a study marketing structure that houses us all. But times are changing. The nature of media is tilting the balance of power.

Now the consumer is at the wheel... and having a voice in the marketing cycle has nurtured our audience into a body of consumers who demand brands dialogue with them… and share their values. Buyers and brands are now having exchanges of ideas in a more honest way than ever before. Transparency, listening, responsiveness and even intimacy are possible now. Some will still debate whether advertising is art yet, but there is no denying it has become much more human. And that's something we all can like.

Valleau, Mahoney and Wallace are all judges for The Drum Advertising Awards. The deadline for which is Friday 14 September.

Many advertising people think that they are not really in advertising at all. It’s almost as if the term has become a dirty word. However, at The Drum, we believe that being in advertising should be a source of real pride. Download your entry pack now and show the world your amazing work.


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