Commentary

Don't Blame You, Don't Blame Me, Blame That Fellow Behind the Tree

"Advertising is the makeup on the public face of capitalism,” said the eminently quotable Randall Rothenberg, former journalist and current CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau. "So any tension that people feel about capitalism comes right down to their feelings about advertising. If what happens in business offends them, the advertising gets blamed. If we don't like gas-guzzling cars, the advertising gets blamed, because it is easier to blame the advertising than it is to blame the millions of people out there struggling in Michigan building cars."

It seems that now that we’ve seen the up close ugly underside of the consumer-economy that has cost us much of our savings, in some cases our jobs and in all cases has brought to a dead stop the urge to buy a new car because the new-leather smell finally dissipated from the old one or to think it perfectly OK to spend $700 on dinner for four, we in the advertising business appear to have a self-image problem.  Randy is not the only one who’s has gotten a little, shall we say, touchy about federal investigations, the usual low ranking in consumer trust polls, and the secret desire to be Don Draper.

Should we feel guilty for the extraordinary efforts we go to on behalf of our clients to understand human nature and how to prompt it to try a new brand or change from one it’s already accustomed too? I don’t know. We want our army to be the best it can be. We want our doctors and airline pilots to be flawless in their execution. We want our cops to be smarter and more facile than crooks who would harm us. We want our manufacturers to produce lemon-less goods. We expect our clergy to rise above the same temptations we yield to all the time.  Who among us hasn’t sent back a main course not prepared to our expectations?  Why then should we feel guilty because we try to do the very best possible job we can in this industry?

If I try to defend the morality of what we do, the comments section below will overflow like the Yellow River in rainy season. The general theme will be that advertising creates subliminal desire to buy stuff we don’t really need or want. Pretty funny when folks say they think most advertising “sux” to begin with.

You would have thought that if yuppies (remember us?) learned anything it was to take responsibility for our own actions.  But, gosh with pharma companies inventing new diseases that absolve us of any personal responsibility for our avarice and addictions, contradictory moral direction from our elected officials, the life-long urge to buy our way to happiness, and a world moving so fast that we are relieved to think “not my problem” it is no wonder that we want to point our overweight fingers at somebody besides that sad sack in the mirror. For some reason we feel like the rest of the nation is pointing their fingers not just at bankers, but at us for creating in them a desire to consume, as if it weren’t hanging out in there like a prisoner looking for a crack in the mortar.

Grow up America. Nobody from Madison Avenue is putting you in the sleeper hold until you shell out for shoes you can’t afford (or a house or a car or a set of golf clubs). You are mature enough (if you are reading this anyway) to make your own informed decisions. Take responsibility. It would have made your Dad proud.

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