Why You Wanna Be An Advertising Hater?

[June 6, 2012]

If you’ve never tried it, Google the phrase “people hate advertising” and introduce yourself to the lore surrounding the myth that advertising is dead or dying. In a country that has integrated the principles of advertising and related fields into every aspect of daily life, that assertion is painfully ironic.

From parents packaging their kids for college, to self-promotion in social space, to the onset of late-stage reality programming, the boundary between presentation and substance has been eroded. Think you’re immune? Ask yourself the next time you pull on a T-shirt with an alligator, a polo player, a “swoosh” or an American flag embroidered on its chest—and willingly become a walking advertisement.

And yet I continually hear that people hate advertising.

Yes, the remote control was invented in 1956. Yes, click through rates on digital banners are low. Yet, strangely, the word gets out—about Google, Gaga and a gaggle of other products. Ten or 12 years ago, the only people carrying dataphones were workaholics. Now they’re the indispensable fashion accessory for anyone hoping to hook up. Why? Because millions of people were sold on them, in part with advertising—whether they hated it or not.

“…are greatly exaggerated.”
The “Death of Advertising” myth is linked to three delusions. The first arises from the assumption that you can take people at their word. Trouble is, what people mean is not determined by the literal definition of their individual words, but by the cultural context in which their words are spoken.

So, for example, in a time and place where it’s fashionable to say you hate advertising, you’ll say it—if only to improve, ironically, your personal brand. Hating advertising then becomes a way of positioning yourself as a member of a subculture.

The second delusion stems from the belief that mobile and social media marketing are killing traditional advertising. Brands, we are told, “don’t need to ‘sell’ online” because they have a host of new strategies. But whatever’s going on at social sites and the iPad nearest you is advertising.

And it’s no less “traditional” than an archaic 30-second spot, because the underlying premise is the same. The goal of either approach is linking brand attributes to key characteristics of your audience. Are you inviting users to share what they love about your product? You, my friend, are advertising.

Finally, it’s also a delusion to assert that hatred of advertising keeps advertising from getting results. Of course, if you believe that the function of advertising is to generate “good metrics,” you’ll always be disappointed.

Science, not so much.
While we would desperately like to believe otherwise, marketing and advertising are not sciences. There’s no knowing how any ad affects your customers. That’s because every ad floats in a sea of your customers’ social and cultural interactions—including every other ad they experience.

We can’t claim to know precisely what tips the scales in our favor, any more than we can settle the nature vs nurture argument on any other level. Let’s face it, even in the glory days of direct marketing, response rates were subject to the Clever Hans fallacy at least half the time.

Sweet seduction.
We also can’t ignore the possibility that some people hate advertising because it works. If they realize that an ad they muted yesterday was the one that finally convinced them to buy, they may feel resentful about “being seduced.”

Now, as I see it, anyone over 22 who doesn’t realize that seduction is the basic vocabulary of all human interaction has led an unexamined life. What’s shocking to some people, apparently, is that they too, at all hours of the day or night, are either seducing or being seduced to different degrees.

Ultimately, the source of the “Death of Advertising” myth lies in the belief that advertising consists of the objects advertising agencies produce. If your idea of advertising is TV spots, print ads, Web pages, digital banners, packaging, advertorials, POP displays, etc. you’re confusing cause and effect.

For those are only advertising media. Advertising is a message and if that message weren’t getting through, we’d have no consumer market. A trip to Best Buy would be a nightmare, as you confronted row after row of undifferentiated black boxes. Mac? PC? Toaster? You’d never be able to tell them apart.

No, if we truly believe that people hate advertising, the answer isn’t to kill the category, but to upgrade the quality of our product. It’s a process that begins the moment we stop thinking of advertising as an object to love or hate, and recognize it for what it is: A communication process whose objective is motivation.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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