Re-Op-Ed: The Trolls of Madison Avenue by Alan Wolk

By Matt Van Hoven 

We’re reposting this op-ed by adver-dude Alan Wolk. It was initially published just a few weeks ago, and we thought it could use some more air.

The Trolls Of Madison Avenue
By Alan Wolk


Advertising has never been a gentle business. But the growth of the social web has made this tendency towards vitriol and negativity quite visible. The resulting image is not a flattering one and creates an impression that advertising is a failing industry staffed by bitter has-beens and frightened overpaid frauds.

Which I don’t think is the least bit true, but that’s the impression being giving.

Whether it’s the sneering angry dismissal of any campaign that veers from the tried-and-true (e.g. Skittles, Whopper Sacrifice) or the anonymous vitriol spewed at not-very well-known co-workers (witness the fairly pointed personal attacks on David Armano, Noah Brier and Joseph Jaffe in this week’s Adweek alone) the creative ad community seems determined to showcase its worst side. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting a love fest. Just that we talk about each other – and each other’s ideas – in a voice that doesn’t suggest the opposing party has just murdered one’s entire family in cold blood.

But why are ad people so angry? What is it about the culture that encourages a junior high school like atmosphere of intolerance and insults? It’s a culture that, as Brian Morrissey has pointed out, is completely alien to Silicon Valley, where experimentation is embraced and personal attacks kept to a bare minimum. And the answer to that question matters because if you’re a really talented, creative college graduate, why on earth would you even vaguely consider working in an industry filled with snippy small-minded haters?

So why? Why continue to embrace behavior that makes the traditional ad industry look petty and small and irrelevant, exactly the sort of people a potential client would want to avoid at any cost?

I have my suspicions, many of which were echoed when I asked this question online yesterday in a markedly different forum. But as SuperSpy and I were discussing that conversation, we decided it would be interesting to throw it out to the anonyrati who comprise a majority of the Agency Spy audience and see what you all came up with.

So why all the nastiness? Where does it come from? Does it bother you? Or is it all so commonplace, you don’t even notice it anymore?

Alan Wolk runs The Toad Stool consultancy and is a social media/ad blogger, as well as an Adweek writer.

More: See All Of This Week’s Op-Eds