Risky Business: Is Great Advertising Dead?

I know I haven’t posted in a while; things have been really hectic with midterms and job applications. Making it even harder to focus on tasks at hand, last week was Advertising Week in New York – so naturally I spent too much time live-streaming various panels and tweeting about what I learned from #AWIX.

72andSunny & Benetton: UNHATE

I came away with a wealth of information on agency life, media trends, consumer behavior, and the digital takeover; but my biggest takeaways came from a pair of panels centered around risk: “Big Swings” presented by 72andSunny (look at their work for Benetton, and you’ll understand why they curated this panel) and “How the F#$% Did They Sell That?” – a panel curated by Mekanism that featured top brass from Pepsi Max, Kia Motors, Axe, and Charles Schwab.

Early in the week, JWT held a “funeral” for advertising. Of course, the coffin was empty, illustrating the point that advertising is not dead. It is evolving, but it is not dead.

Advertising is a business that changes with technology. A few years ago, and a few years before that, I’m sure many in the industry – daunted by a new paradigm they didn’t quite understand – foresaw the demise of advertising, too. We may not know what the future of advertising looks like, but I can be certain that it will continue to evolve as necessary – because advertising is an inherent part of consumerism, and consumerism is here to stay.

Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett, blogged about the future of advertising for Huffington Post during AWIX and made a hugely important point:

Something different is going on today — a change that I haven’t seen in the almost 30 years that I have been in advertising. Something that I believe does truly threaten our industry. And that is the devaluation of ideas and partnerships. Why? Because the ugly truth is bad advertising and average advertising work. Great advertising just works better. Great advertising resonates longer. Great advertising is better for this world. Great advertising attracts great people to our profession.

The creation of great advertising takes real talent — agency types with super-human resiliency genes joined at the hip with client types whose brains defer to guts. Talented partners who grant each other tenure and realize that great success requires risk, investment and acceptance of failed attempts to create that great. And this kind of talent is finite.

So how can we, as an industry, foster an environment that creates great advertising? This is where risk comes into play. The great minds that Credle talks about drawing into the business would not, and should not, waste their talent on safety and mediocrity.

How the F#$% Did They Sell That?” discussed four recent campaigns that did in fact take risks. My favorite “i-don’t-know-why-i-like-this-but-i-love-it” ad of recent memory has been the Kia Soul Party Rockin’ hamster spot.  It’s absolutely absurd. There’s robots, a seemingly post-apocalyptic setting, dancing hamsters, the ever-annoying LMFAO, and I’m not going to lie, a pretty ugly car. But really, who drives a Kia Soul?

Well, since that ad, a lot of people do. And what’s remarkable is that quite recently, no one seemed to know what Kia was. Michael Sprague, executive vice president for marketing and communications at Kia Motors America, told the panel: “They thought I was selling Swedish furniture. They thought I was IKEA. What the hell do I have to lose?”

Working with David & Goliath, Sprague was able to sell that campaign based on the agency’s known ability to home in on those car buyers [millenials] and understand their tastes in music, gaming and pop culture.

Other campaigns featured included those below, whose “cost-to-weirdness” ratio – or surprise factor in the case of Axe – were just enough to sell and succeed.

Agency: Davie Brown Entertainment

Agency: Mekanism

Agency: BBH New York

Failure is part of the business, and many would argue, an integral one. I recently watched a TEDx talk from Tor Myhren, President & Chief Creative at Grey in New York, where he talked about “heroic failures” and how he rewards them with his own staff. Coming off of one such failure, which lost the $300 million Cadillac account for Leo Burnett Detroit as well as his job, Myhren learned a lot, but continued to take risks at Grey.

The now-famous E*TRADE baby commercials were no doubt a risk, and far from the commercials flaunting other financial firms, but this time, the calculated risk paid off. E*TRADE has since become hugely successful, and Myhren’s hilarious talking babies have been key. Making Ellen DeGeneres a Covergirl at 50, the oddball mini-giraffe spot for DirecTV, and a host of other examples show risk paying off for Myhren and Grey.

So I agree with Susan Credle. Advertising is not dead. But it needs to continue producing great ads that attract great talent. Agencies and clients should take calculated risks. Some might pay off, others might not. But without them, we’d only have mediocrity, and that is a boring future I don’t wish for as I (hopefully) begin my career in the industry.


One Comment on “Risky Business: Is Great Advertising Dead?”

  1. HI!
    Fascinating post on an ever evolving industry. My interest in marketing revolves around personal branding for bloggers and small online businesses which relies heavily on social network platforms. But with regard to large corporations I’ve never followed any on Twitter or Facebook although those sites are used now as a complement to TV ad campaigns. How big a role is social network media playing in large corporate advertising?
    Also, I’m interested in the genesis of ad campaigns like the Geiko Gecko, Progressive’s Flo and Carl’s Jr. going from “Don’t bother me. I’m eating” to boobs sell burgers. Are there places online or in books that I can find that kind of information? An entertaining tidbit at http://www.progressive.com/dresslikeflo.aspx where the ladies can learn how to dress and talk like Flo for Halloween.
    Interesting blog. Look foward to your posts.
    All the best,

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