Raise Your Hand If You Hate Your Benefactor

It’s not every day that the Web site of a company that makes money from conferences paid for by advertising vendors publishes a diatribe by a staff editor against the very industry that pays her a living wage. Under the ad hominem headline “Why people hate the ad industry,” the author outlines four areas for concern.

Condescension: “Consumers don't appreciate being treated like idiots….”

Contrivance: “From a layperson's perspective, marketers don't talk like real people….”

Greed: “Greed is about disregarding things like ethics in the name of getting an egregious payoff....”

Dishonesty: [T]he industry is stuck in its crafty ways. It is using technology to trick people in new ways, sometimes under the guise of "native" advertising, rather than seizing the opportunity to lift the veil....

And in conclusion: “Stop getting defensive, stop apologizing, stop rationalizing, stop playing it safe, and stop backing away from tough questions. Don't shirk the issues; address them. “

Although the author linked to lots of additional criticism by other writers to support her own POV, it seemed particularly personal, assembling the sort of arguments that a sophomore might make in a Business Ethics 101 paper.



But who am I to judge? I routinely dump on the TV industry for too many commercials, the online industry for being obtuse and at times downright dishonest, and people in our industry who raise their hands and shout "Me, me - pick me."

It is easy to pick on advertising because in every poll and survey, the citizenry tend to lambaste everything about it, from its intrusiveness to its irrelevance, from its white bread leadership to its occasional poor taste. You don't even have to be in the business to recommend against it, as

Gawker staff writer Hamilton Nolan did in “Do Not Go Into Advertising” (“Advertising is the industry that people who were not lucky enough to get actual 'creative' jobs end up in.”).

Back in the good old days, when the local paper ran a story about a local car's dealer's failure to get the town council to rezone his neighborhood so he could expand the size of his lot, the dealer screamed bloody murder at the paper's publisher and pulled all of his advertising. (At least until his showroom traffic began to dry up because no one knew he was having a Three-Day Sale-athon.) And with competition for media dollars greater today than ever before, who's to say that it still isn't a viable tactic to blunt criticism. "You don't support me, so you don't get my support" seems like a reasonable quid pro quo.

Most media is more vulnerable than ever to such threats. Depite media folks’ loud protestations that "we never let advertising dictate what editorial does here," I can assure you that money talks loud enough to be heard over the church/state wall.

Look no further than the conference business, which is an open-air market for vendors who will spend either to have a speaker on a panel or be allotted a captive audience in a "sponsored" session. Similarly, editors are more aware than ever who is paying their salary. Just recently, Time Inc said that "seeking to increase revenue by building a closer partnership between business and the newsroom," the editors of its individual magazines would now report directly to the company’s business side for the first time in its history, instead of the editor in chief of Time Inc. “We believe effective collaboration across business and editorial lines is imperative if we are to succeed as an independent company,” Time's CEO wrote in a memo.

But even retribution will never entirely stop the critics of the ad business. There is just too much low-hanging fruit.

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