Calling Advertising Dead Is Dead

Since I started in advertising, I’ve always found the propensity to hate on advertising interesting, especially when the biggest haters tend to be the ones that work in the industry. Of course, the sessions at SXSW are no exception. Predictably, this year had plenty of panels on the subject: “the end of ads,” “media is dead,” “the era of unadvertising,” to name a few. 

I'd like to take a different point of view than the vast majority of my colleagues. I'd argue that advertising is very much alive; in fact, I think calling advertising dead is dead.  

At its core, advertising is anything that connects a brand with its audience. The very best advertising has always been about captivating storytelling built around the interests, needs, motivations and/or values of said audiences. Storytelling today couldn’t be more diverse and exciting, and as a result, advertising has the opportunity to be at the heart of some of the most exciting, immersive storytelling experiences we’ve ever known. 



The industry itself is transforming, but the skill of coming up with incredible ideas and telling stories about those ideas hasn’t. What has changed, however, is that mediocrity will no longer be able to skate by unnoticed. Bad advertising, sneaky media behaviors, intrusiveness and plain poor taste will be put on stage and picked up instantly — this time, it’s not just fellow advertisers, but by the audience at-large, who will jump all over it and expose it for what it is. Even worse, repeat offenders will be discarded, dismissed or quickly replaced. This phenomenon couldn’t be more on display at SXSW, where sessions and keynotes abound and the mediocre ones suffer from countless eyes on devices looking for a new session and plotting an escape route. 

I hope this fact will force us all to take a harder look at what we put out there and make the industry at-large work together to truly master the craft of storytelling across channels. 

The explosion of channels and people’s thirst for content will require advertisers to raise the bar. We cannot build brands through just an ad campaign anymore — we need our stories to extend to editorial, tech partnerships, PR, two-way and live discussion, intuitive design, retail, and of course, mobile. Storytelling has become a lot more complex and will require all of us to think carefully about how to bring different parts of the story to life for an audience that is constantly switching between channels and media — often consuming content from multiple sources at once. The core idea couldn’t be more important today, and identifying the best way to tell the story through a core channel then build around it will be key. James Frey touched on this during his session “Worlds Without Boundaries” on Saturday. The only way we can do this is through more effective collaboration between experts across multiple disciplines. 

To do this, we need to stop separating ourselves into siloes. I wholeheartedly believe the fragmentation of our business has made us weaker. Today, there should be no distinction between creative, media, PR and digital … and, while I’m at it, isn’t it time we stopped referring to “digital” as a thing. Digital just is; it is how we experience life today. 

Taking a note from a great panel hosted by MediaPost at SXSW on Friday, “Content Marketing vs. Don Draper: The End of Ads,” Linda Boff, executive director of marketing at GE, touched on how they’ve completely restructured their company to remove channel siloes and build groups against specific objectives that served GE. Adding to that, Stephanie Losee, managing editor at Dell, said they combined their communications group with their marketing group, which has paved the way for Dell to become a publisher of content in the New York Times

I think we can take a lesson from clients like these. I think we need to get over the competing agendas and land-grabbing that hold agencies back from delivering the right solutions to their clients. I think we need to stop relying on clients to bring us together. With this vast new world of storytelling possibilities, there’s plenty of room for everyone to play nicely in the sandbox.

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