‘Advertising, at its best, can be amazing!’ Laurence Thomson on why advertising is not a dirty word

Laurence Thomson, co-president and executive creative director at McCann

Ahead of The Drum's December issue we've been quizzing industry luminaries, including judges for The Drum Advertising Awards, about what they love about advertising – and why the word shouldn't be considered a badge of shame.

This time, we speak to Laurence Thomson, co-president and executive creative director at McCann.

What ad made you realise this was the industry for you?

For me it was imagery and illustration that made me want to get into advertising. It tells a story through pictures, it sums up a bit of music as an image and that is what I found interesting.

As a creative, I realised that posters were like big art pieces or things where you can get your ideas across. The scale on which you could do stuff was bigger than just doing the odd record cover or book cover.

What ad that you’ve been involved in that most exemplifies the power of good advertising?

Traditionally you would likely say it was television or print. But if I look at one of our most recent pieces of work, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in e-commerce, ‘The Fanchise Model’ – that's modern advertising. It's a different way of doing advertising. Something that resonates with the correct audience.

How do you explain what you do to a taxi driver, a hairdresser etc?

I say I do advertising and they say ‘Oh, what like TV and that?’ And I say, ‘yeah, it's TV and that’. It's the communication world in which we live and the messages that we deliver across different platforms. Advertising, when it gets in the way and isn't useful or isn't entertaining, becomes a dirty word… when lies are promoted.

I don't think advertising is a bad word because with all the bad you do a lot of good. People only remember really spectacularly bad things though, like the Brexit stuff and all the lies that made our industry look bad in the last couple of years.Yet it's not regulated by anyone and the public think that is advertising. People don't know how to distinguish what advertising is. If they enjoy it they don't go, ‘oh, that was advertising’.

And what is your message to anyone who considers advertising a dirty word?

There's either going to be spectacularly, amazingly good advertising, like Nike’s ‘Run London’ or its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad campaign. Or spectacularly bad. You don't want to be in that world, hopefully. Those, unfortunately, are things that tar the whole industry with people thinking advertising is now a bad word. If you look at the Pepsi ad with Kylie Jenner, that was spectacularly bad.

Advertising, at its best, can be fucking amazing – so amazing that it is part of your everyday life. When you're living and working on an advertising platform and it's useful, interesting, engaging or entertaining, you don't question it. When it's in your way, when it's a five-second blip before you watch a video, that's when people hate advertising. The problem there is the way people are buying media and then putting work on to media. It isn't very well thought out. You actually want to be the content people are searching for, not the bit before the content people are searching for. The examples of good and bad get all messed up. It's just like the world, it creates a lot of good and bad behaviours. That's what the word ‘advertising’ incorporates.

The finalists for The Drum Advertising Awards have already been announced - so get your tickets here. To coincide with the awards, the December issue of The Drum magazine will be dedicated to debunking the idea that ‘advertising’ is a dirty word. If you’re not already a subscriber to The Drum, you can sign up here.

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