Man About Town

Ever been struck absolutely dumb by a single, simple thought? One that seared your brain in an instant? I have. Just the other day.

It came like a bolt of lightning.

Crrraaaaaccckkkk!

Just what was this incendiary thought? I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let me recreate my mood.

What is it about advertising that pisses people off so much? And how is it possible that an entire industry has to take it on the chin when one of our less noble practitioners pulls a stupid stunt?

Take, for example, the idiots at Sony Pictures who made up fake quotes for movie ads. Did you notice how the guilty parties were shrouded in anonymity throughout their 15 minutes of infamy? They were usually referred to as “un named marketing professionals” because, according to the conventional wisdom, no one particularly believes “quote whores” anyway. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: No one cares that a few liars got “caught” because most people think advertising is full of them.

Yeow!

The alleged perpetrators are Josh Goldstine and Matthew Cramer. Just in case you wondered.

I’m outraged because the people I know in advertising spend a hell of a lot of time and energy trying to decipher the truth of a company and its products and services before crafting any communications at all. We don’t conjure up lies to get people to buy soap.

Honest we don’t.

But tell that to Dennis Miller and George Carlin. After a grueling day in the trenches (looking for truths, dammit, not concocting evil ways to mislead consumers), I returned home and popped on the tube for a little late-night humor. Imagine my delight when I realized one of my favorite chat shows was devoting a half-hour to railing against the sins of advertising.

Dennis Miller and George Carlin, no less. I suppose promotion has played no part in advancing either of their careers.

I laughed. But it was through a veil of tears.

Then I started to sink into a real funk, recalling the Gallup poll from last November that ranked advertising the lowest of all professions in terms of trust and honesty.

I didn’t find much solace in chatting with some of my closest non industry friends. Each of them took the opportunity to rant about how much they hate telemarketers calling at 9 on a Saturday morning.

I agree! But that’s not what I’m talking about!

One pal said he feels he has to “deconstruct all those damn messages from, like, car companies and stuff.” This is a pretty smart guy. Usually. I hated to point out that he doesn’t drive, nor will he ever likely be in the market for a car.

Why not just ignore the ads? What does he think we’re trying to do to him if he’s not interested in buying a car?

I needed some sort of answer. What do companies in other industries do when people loathe them or are confused about what they do?

That’s when it hit me. That bolt of lightning.

Advertise.

Facing stiff competition in a challenging marketplace? Advertise.

Yeah, I know. Fat chance. The cobbler’s kid is barefoot. We ain’t got no ads. And I’m just stunned by that.

We ran $236.3 billion worth of advertising in the U.S. alone last year, yet I don’t think I’ve seen a TV commercial for an ad agency in my life. Not even a print ad. (Industry organizations often create work for the benefit of the whole, but that’s not what I’m talking about. And classifieds and congratulatory awards-show one-offs don’t count.)

We practically slave over pro bono campaigns for a host of worthy causes. Why not do the same for ourselves? At least a little bit.

After 17 years in the business, the one thing I know agencies do a pretty damn good job of is direct mail. Sent to consultants and prospects, that is. Just ask the company that received over 100 submissions for a search it was conducting for an agency to mount a single print campaign.

So I have a new dream. Is it too much to hope that one day soon I might see a spot from one of you imaginative people out there promoting what you do for a living?

Just imagine. My family could get a peek into my business life. A few of my friends might understand there’s a difference between me and the folks who advertise for “real psychics” on CNN.

Consider this a challenge. Knock yourselves out.