Get out more


Half way through last year I did something which everybody who works in the advertising industry, should do.


I left it.


Now, I don’t mean this in quite the way that Bill Hicks used to say that anyone who worked in advertising should kill themselves.


Although I can think of a couple of people who might benefit from a set of Le Creuset Hara-kiri knives on their next birthday.


Or a one-way ticket to the “Happy Rest Just Sign Here” Clinic in Switzerland.


(And by the way – if you ever visit one of those clinics, don’t try the welcome drink they give you in Reception. It tastes disgusting and it’ll probably be the last thing you ever do.)


I just mean that you get a new perspective when you quit the industry – even if only temporarily.


You get to join the “Rest of the World”, the civilians.


And you realise something that you’ve half-suspected for a while – which is that people really aren’t interested in advertising. Virtually nobody watches it, looks at it, listens to it, or reads it.


And when you realise this, you might start thinking about  … non-traditional forms of marketing.


Pack design, and social networking sites, and websites, and advertiser-funded programmes and massively multiplayer online games – and other good stuff like that.


Or you may not be ready to hear this at all. You may still believe that people are glued to the ads.


Because you probably work in the industry and you think people are like you.


And you watch the ads – because you’re in the industry.


It’s what they call a viscous circle – because it’s very sticky.


You might claim that you “don’t watch the ads”, but you’ve always got half an eye open for someone who might be doing a better car ad than your car ad – so you’re watching, even if you think you aren’t.


It’s only people who quit advertising, or who go off on maternity leave, or people who never joined in the first place, who will know what I’m saying.


So here’s a couple of tests to help you see what I mean.


Go on the tube and see how many people are looking at the escalator panels. Even the new whiz-bang digital ones (which I think look great).


Nobody’s looking at them.


And the alternative is looking at someone’s dandruff-infested collar.


But people would rather count the scurf on a scarf than look at the ads.


Second test. You’ve just had Christmas, seen your extended family (and realised WHY they’re extended).


At some point in all that, you will have had a conversation like this.


“Hello, {your name goes here}. What do you do ?


“I work in advertising”.


“Oh really. Yea, I love that funny one with the fat guy advertising the bank.”


At this point you are thinking “This person is a moron. That’s the Nationwide campaign, brilliantly written, dunno why it went up for review, not for a bank at all, in fact that’s the whole point of it.”


The other person is thinking “Jeez, this person probably writes the L’Oreal ads, I need to  get away from here fast. Better say something nice – which ad can you remember that isn’t complete shit  ?”


Now, which person is really the moron ?


And I think this problem is right at the core of our industry.  People care a lot less about advertising than we’re prepared to admit.


Because ads interrupt whatever it is people are engaged with, and try to engage them in a conversation the consumer has shown no interest in starting in the first place.


Compound that with the fact that most of those conversations are incredibly tedious, and you begin to see the problem.


Eventually you realise something.


It’s only two fish fingers short of a miracle that ads were ever granted any attention at all.


(And incidentally, a tribute to the incredible creative talent the industry has got.)




Against that, you could argue the fact that right now, average creative standards in TV advertising are possibly higher than they’ve ever been.


And the cost of TV advertising is lower than it’s been since the early 90s.


So – is it worth still doing conventional advertising ?




I love new solutions. I love new stuff, just because it’s new. But I’d probably answer with a muted yes – if the creative work is really, really outstanding.


It’s just not where I’d START.



  • craig lovelidge

    Ooooooo, I’m lovin’ this. I left my full-time job in traditional advertising about 5 years ago and became a freelancer. For once I wasn’t around ad people 14 hours a day. I suddenly stopped looking at ads… But I did keep thinking… And that thinking changed from wanting to write ads to wanting to solve clients problems with creative solutions, not ads. More info available on my website… (sorry, i thought i’d give it a quick plug!)

  • Jayne Marar

    i’ve never understood why people feel the need to generalize.
    people are like this and people are like that.
    there is no such person as everybody.
    everyone is different and we all interact with advertising (and life) in our own unique way.
    some people live through their mobiles and macs – are always out and never watch TV.
    others don’t and find a text on their phones trying to sell them stuff intrusive.
    i happen to think there’s a captive audience on every tube platform or riding up every underground escalator.
    if they’re not looking at the ads, it’s because they’re not very interesting and therefore not communicating.
    it’s only when we show them something different or say something that will get them thinking, that we can even start communicating.
    then we have to get the message out there in the most appropriate way.
    be it TV, posters, print, virals, texts, content, branded events…
    or a nicer welcoming drink and fluffy pairs of slippers at the ‘Happy Rest Just Sign Here Clinic/Switzerland’ :)
    there’s only one mistake we can make when it comes to ‘The Rest Of The World’ – that’s to underestimate or patronize them.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Absolutely right Steve. I deliberately took crappy part time jobs in between great jobs to get back in touch with the man in the street. These experiences are fantastic. It’s the stuff you cannot buy. The lived experience. When you know what it’s really like to deliver a 3 piece suite up 6 flights of stairs to be told ‘we don’t like it’ or delivered a parcel in the pouring rain as a bus hits a puddle, and when you think it’s all over, you sit in your crappy van and you feel all the cold water seep up your arse into your underpants, and you know the seat is now going to be wet all day long…and the gearstick still only works in two out of three gears like a bamboo stick lodged in a slice of cheese, and you ask yourself can it get any worse and it does….that’s real life. Real life for many people in this country who don’t give a toss what the company is called as long as it delivers when you need it
    to…I’ve done unimaginable jobs to make ends meet, and one day someone is going to benefit from all that experience in some brilliant scripts. I just don’t know who it will be yet.

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