Thursday, December 3, 2009

Save the Agency: A Contrarian View of the Ad Biz

As a student of culture, I've always been drawn to the account planning side of my industry. And as a creative, that knowledge is crucial in being able to motivate people. As a marketing professional that knowledge is also crucial in being able to motivate people to the point of opening their wallets, falling in love with a brand, changing culture, etc. But let's be frank. Some see this as sleazy manipulation and have come to hate advertising as a result.

As a cultural observer, I know how difficult it can be for businesses and brands to gain momentum and market share in this very savvy, sensitive, and cynical world we live in. But every business needs to grow (and grow fast) or we'll all be in big trouble. So in the greater sense, I know that advertising and marketing is not evil. It serves a purpose. It's still a service. Yet not everyone agrees, and some agency execs are going to great lengths and expense to get inside the hearts and minds of consumers to influence and persuade buyer behavior to gain a competitive edge. You can dress it up any way you like, but that's what it is.

In my opinion, if I possess the power and knowledge to change culture I want it to be used in a socially responsible way; not just to move more hamburgers in a nation with escalating health care costs. But that's the beauty of free will. I don't have to sell myself out. There are plenty of noble business and/or non-profit pursuits to promote and market with the skills and talents I've been given. I can use my power for good in order to make the world a better place, or I can keep pandering to the highest bidder and just pad my pockets. I'm sure lawyers have the same dilemma, except their compensation structure is much different. The term "starving artists" has some truth to it and creatively dominate people all have to do what they have to do sometimes to feed their families. Many of us at times have compromised our values and ideals just to survive in life. But no one forced us to. Again that's the beauty of choice. We all get to choose, just as we can choose to judge or not to judge. Those big agencies with even bigger critics provide something far more valuable than mere target practice. They provide paychecks; paychecks with good pay to creatives who desperately need to work right now in this blistering economy.