What is the purpose of advertising anyway?

Before reviewing the comments from leaders in the advertising agency world related to this year's Super Bowl, I knew their observations would disappoint me. Why? Because they would disregard advertising's reason for being.

Before addressing the purpose of advertising, let's look at some sample quotes (with my underlining) taken out of Bob Garfield's editorial of February 2, 2009 in Ad Age entitled "Ed McMahon's Bad Ad Steals the Super Bowl".


"The moose! We don't care if it's implicitly crude. We've never seen this joke before, and the joke, she is perfect."


"Very, very funny."


"The baby is back, this time with a sidekick... Weird, adorable, funny..."


"Who needs jokes, CGI or chimpanzees when you have an extraordinary offer? Buy a new Hyundai and, if you lose your job, return the car at no risk to your credit."


"Here we see it dramatized, along with glimpses at other unruly pets, such as wild boars, ostriches, etc. Then the payoff title card: "Maybe you should get a dog." Very funny, and a nice way into Pedigree's pet-adoption do-gooding."


"The selling proposition -- you don't know what boxed flowers will look like, so you don't know what they'll say about you -- is, at best, thin. The "creative" solution is disgraceful: a box of talking flowers nastily ridiculing homely people about how ugly and sad they are. That is ugly and sad. And cruel."

Notice the frequent subjective references to style, funny, creative, adorable, ugly, sad and so forth. Some of this is appropriate considering the audience. 

But what about something really important such as whether the spots worked or did not work to yield new revenue for the advertiser? 

I saved the best quote for last because it reveals the typical advertising agency's true mentality. 


"On the Super Bowl? Really?

Things are even worse than we thought.

Not because it's pitiful that the down-and-out Ed McMahon and MC Hammer should humiliate themselves before 100 million appalled eyewitnesses. Not because in the Dustbowl Super Bowl poor NBC is reduced to accepting a schlocky direct-response spot thinly disguised as a winking spoof of schlocky direct-response spots. Not even because the economy is so bad that we're panicked into trading our jewelry and bridgework for 17¢ on the dollar of gold value.

Here's schlocky: Cash4Gold spot not clever, but it works.

The truly scary thing is that this skeazy exercise from Euro RSCG Edge and Arnold Worldwide will generate, by far, the biggest ROI of the Super Bowl. With the financial structures of advertising in a state of collapse, if creativity is so beside-the-point, then what is the point? Answer that to the Leading National Advertisers' satisfaction, and you'll get cash for gold."

My take: 

Things are indeed getting worse than we thought for advertising agencies that waste millions of dollars of their clients' money with advertising that does not get the cash register ringing. Agencies do this by making sure that their clients' advertising entertains, comes across as funny and clever -- and never sells anything.

Denny's gets a top rating even though the financial results of giving away free meals to America probably will not deliver an ROI the CFO for the company would approve. But at least it comes with an offer! 

The only relevant comment that relates to ROI in all of Garfield's comments gets the blast of his disdain. 

He accidentally approves of Hyundai's offer. Though he would not normally do this because any offer that asks the viewer to do something somehow demeans the brand from his lofty perspective. I suppose he rates this offer highly because it is new and clever. Not just any offer could pass his stringent screening process.

Hopefully this recession will weed out these arrogant advertising "gurus" and the clients that follow their advice. 


Garfield asks this question. “With the financial structures of advertising in a state of collapse, if creativity is so beside-the-point, then what is the point?“

Let me answer Mr Garfield’s question with another question that will answer it. What is the point of creativity if it is not there to shore up the clients’ financial structure?

It's about time that we killed advertising that is more concerned about style, entertainment value and creativity for creativity’s sake than the real goal of advertising. ADVERTISING'S REASON FOR BEING IS TO MAKE MONEY FOR THE ADVERTISER. PERIOD.

Posted on February 17, 2009 and filed under Branding.