Monday, February 23, 2015

Forget 'Is It An Art Or A Science' - Is Advertising Actually More Like A Religion?

The quickest way to ruin a meeting, it's been said, is to ask everyone around the table how they think advertising works.

Because no two individuals would agree.

And frankly, this is an embarrassment.

Can you imagine plumbers sitting around, arguing about 'how plumbing works'? Lawyers may disagree on the facts of a case, but they all have a very clear understanding of what the law is. Knife-makers agree how knives work. And bakers all know how bread is made.

Almost unbelievably, some of our theories directly contradict each other. For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, so cut-through is irrelevant.

I was intrigued, therefore, as to whether 'the answer' would appear in the book that uber-strategist Paul Feldwick has just published called 'The Anatomy of Humbug'.

It's billed as "a book that isn't about how advertising works, but about how people think advertising works."

My copy hasn't arrived yet, but I have to say that the interviews Mr Feldwick has done to promote the book - while fascinating - have left me seriously depressed.

I suppose I've long cleaved to the hope that although we may disagree right now about how advertising works, there will be an answer 'one day'.

Mr Feldwick seems to imply not.

While according to one reviewer "he sidles very close to answering the fundamental question" he eventually concludes "there isn't an answer" and admits that "the book supports multiple points of view."

Most worryingly of all, he talks about the need to 'respect other people's beliefs'.

And that, my friends, is not the language of science, or of art... but of religion.


Anonymous said...

If i may make a pedantic comment that speaks only to one of your illustrating examples and leaves your central point unscathed, lawyers frequently disagree as to what the law is. The majority of legal argument is around the interpretation of the law rather than the facts.

Unknown said...

If advertising agencies are religions, then either there's a lot of converting going on or they all worship the same god.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm surrounded by people who think they're God, so I buy the religion angle.

Kent Johnson said...

Is that an artesian knife or mass produced; or perhaps the metaphorical knife to stab your enemy with; the later would certainly be a subject with as much conflict as to the best design and how it works as advertising itself!

adland at its best said...

It's nothing more than a religion.

Speak the truth in an agency and it's blasphemy.

Don't worship the ECD and you'll be crucified.

Refuse to be a slave to the agency and client and you'll be executed.

They have everyone running scared the same way religions do.
Agency before family, profit before integrity.

Who gives a shit about what happens in the meeting room?

Seriously Veksner!

You're a smart man and you're obviously questioning the industry with all these articles. So why don't you just get the fuck out of advertising?

And I mean that in a positive way. Free yourself from the cult.

Scamp said...

Ha, nicely written comment!

It's true I do like to critique the industry, but only because I'm passionate about it. Sorry to disappoint, but there's no way I'm leaving (until I get kicked out).

If it is a religion, I guess I'm a believer. But not an unquestioning one...

Anonymous said...

As a creative who is undoubtedly more intro- than extro- I've definitely encountered what these comments speak to--that is there is a tendency for agencies to promote from the extro- pool, to seemingly favour bluster, bombast--and, let's be honest, often profound insecurity--over thoughtfulness, and that sucks. It sucks for agencies in that they're not necessarily recognising the right people and it's unfortunate for clients because while they do end up with the brightest people on their accounts it doesn't always follow that they're the best. That being the case, if said clients are incapable of seeing through the talk, then I suppose they deserve the guy/girl who shouts the loudest and relies on external stimuli to row his/her boat than one of us who'll deliver cool concepts and clear thinking without the faux showmanship. As for that anecdote about the family friend with clearly defined home-work personalities, it's probably time I start slapping a few more backs at work.
Evelyn War

Mr Feldwick said...

I hope you were able to get the book OK. I'd be very interested to know what you think once you've read it - and whether you were any less depressed?