What Ad Agencies Owe to Society

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BART CLEVELAND: In a previous posting I asked the question: “If an ad becomes a part of the national vernacular does that means it good creative?”

The lively debate that insued showed that many readers believe the definition of creativity is directly related to the success of a campaign. To move product is the relevant value of any and all advertising. But I suggest there is another responsibility that we who create advertising have to society beyond moving product. We should be committed to not polluting our society with the boring, inane executions that make up the grand majority of the advertising published and aired every day. Do we not owe society a nicer earth upon which to live?

Frankly it irritates me to hear ad people bang the drum that we are not in the business of art but commerce. One previous commentary read “If you want to be an artist, stay home and draw pictures.” Those who bash creativity are probably ill suited to contribute and thus attribute those who try as self-absorbed. Consider that those who are committed to creative excellence are not self-absorbed, but on a mission. Personally, I refuse to let the advertising I do be the insulting garbage that some so proudly hail as good because it moved product. I move product and I do it with interesting, engaging work. I care about the everyday people that see my work. I don’t want to annoy or bore them. I want them to invite my work into their lives because it’s worthy of the invitation. People that like the advertising like the product and people buy products they like.

Howard Gossage, one of the early pioneers of the golden era of advertising, pleaded for ad makers to write ads that were interesting. Because people, he said, only read what interests them. It is important that we not pollute our world any more than it is. Noxious fumes of rancid blandness are as much a travesty to our environment as gas-guzzling SUVs. We must for the sake of the advancement of mankind require ourselves to be more innovative, engaging and delightful in our creative. Anything less is a failure no matter how much product it moves.

All of this hubbub about us getting our priorities wrong when we put creativity above results is misguided. Of course results are the bottom line. We move product or we are out of a job. Those of you preaching the sermon that there is no room for art in our business ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to do great work to move product or are you using the need to move product as an excuse to nothing about another problem: Noise pollution.
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