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The Tragedy of Advertising

Posted December 29th, 2010 by Andrew Goodman

In “The Tragedy of the Talk Show Host” (this month’s Atlantic magazine), James Parker observes: “Like Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show was deeply committed to superficiality, honoring the intuition of the ’90s viewer that Western civilization had essentially ended and that society was a husk of manners and absurd ritual.”

Adweek’s Top 10 Stories of 2010 confirms something similar: that mass advertising as we know it is “so 1961,” has essentially ended, and its ecosystem, awards, publications, and premises (in both senses of the word) are, too, a husk of manners and absurd ritual.

Just check out some of the highlights:

  • General Motors hires a new ad agency. This is news? This is… 1971?
  • Super Bowl ads… Betty White… something to do with a Snickers Bar? This is… 1971?
  • Something to do with Tiger Woods… and Nike. This is… 2001?
  • A mid-sized, scrappy (read: cheap and pliable) agency won Agency of the Year for 2009. “I haven’t worked this hard since my thirties,” cracks Mike Hughes, the 61-year-old president and co-chief creative officer of the 45-year-old agency. I have no problems with this agency’s work and evidently the clients like the value proposition. Then again, all their spots are telling me to do are to use UPS and shop at Wal-Mart (things I probably already do), and eat at Pizza Hut (something you can rest assured I would never do, unless it was the only restaurant in the business park where I worked, miles from anything else). So, if you’re looking for a mid-sized agency that isn’t particularly creative and is essentially “mailing it in,” to support brands that have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build brand equity… you’ve got one of the top 10 advertising stories of 2010!
  • 75 years after creating jeans for women, Levi’s tries (again) to make them fit. Stop the presses!
  • The Old Spice guy, social media, yadda, yadda, yadda. A shirtless, less hairy version of your grandfather. Kind of gives you chills!

The mass advertising industry, like Julian Assange, has been telling everyone it’s “39 years old”… for too many years in a row. Consumers are only going to become better at ignoring its messages… although some (less and less well paid) pundits will continue to be employed to amplify the self-referential meta-dialogue.

2 Responses to “The Tragedy of Advertising”

  1. Andrew, I used to be more of true believer in the Godin theory of advertising – that we were seeing a replacement of the mass media which worked so well when there were only 3 TV channels.

    Now. when I see Facebook and Twitter being plastered on many TV talk shows, I think that we might be reaching a high water mark for permission marketing techniques.

  2. Alexis says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Interesting point you made here. The power of social media has forced TV’s to adapt by using them, in so doing making them more powerful.


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