The ranting of a present day advertising creative.
Advertising is one of the most competitive industry. To stand out is at the centre of what it does daily, not forgetting the self presumed role of being a problem solver to almost anything. And to make it worse, advertising is now in the toughest arms race it has ever been, between arts, design, pop culture, entertainment, technology and now the more with online contents. And advertising creatives are being tasked to do almost the impossible (which includes trying to save the world).
The article below is mostly personal thoughts with more personal observation than facts. And I am still in the industry despite my following ranting.
An ad’s purpose then was to promote or sell a product or service.
People have been trying to advertise their products since almost the beginning of society but an ad agency as of what i know, humbly started off as part of newspaper publishing. The paper sold ad spaces and as a value-adding service to the advertisers, they made the ads stood out among their advertisers’ competitors. Same logic applies to radio and tv, as new mediums were being introduced over time. Due to its profitability, advertising departments were able to come out of the publishers or media owners as independent companies. The details will not be explained here as there are books out there to read on about this history.
Competition used to be simpler too; make the visuals more attractive than the competitors’ (usually through the use of arts, illustrations and later photography), or the headlines of the ads more attention-grabbing than the news articles. But with new mediums, came new contents to compete with. With radio came songs, and with tv, all sorts of contents, from soap operas, sports events to documentaries. Those were the main things people care about. Thus, jingles were produced to compete with songs, and all sorts of tv ads came out, especially the funny ones and the touching ones, stood out more. (Not forgetting the ones that subliminally or even outrightly sells sex.) An advertising creative’s role has actually within the short history, evolved from a flat medium of print, to being tasked to write musical jingles and movie-like scripts. Ad creative thus, have to imagine himself/herself as an artist, writer, songwriter, composer and film-maker, to compete with the real deals. Only a genius will be able to do all these flawlessly. And most of us, frankly, aren’t but tries our best to do it.
And when aesthetics and wit was not enough to stand out, integrated campaign concepts were introduced to have a higher level of engagement with the people, and ad agencies evolved themselves and were labelled as problem solvers. An ad creative has to think aesthetically, intellectually and strategically, at the same time, design a couple of life-saving products along the way. At this moment, time was already a crunch with all these roles one has to handle daily. But the industry simply group all these roles under problem solving, which makes it sounds easier, and creativity is the solution. Not being able to solve a problem means you are not creative enough but luckily ad creatives are a bunch of rather self motivated people.
Then came the internet. All things were easy at the start when there was only 56k broadband. We started to judge print ads as being prehistoric and being at the forefront of having an integrated campaign or having anything digital is the way to go. But with the advancement of the internet, things happened in an instance and almost anyone can be an overnight sensation that stands out. Don’t forget too that there’s an app for everything. Advertisers started to ask for viral contents from ad agencies, where viral is either the greatest or stupidest content meets luck, than there being an actual formula for it. Everyone wants to be that wonder app that photoshop your complexions, edit your videos, share your contents, document your period to simply playing cat videos. And it’s not helping when the advertising award shows started to award anything that stands out, eg. the ice bucket challenge, which wasn’t produced by an ad agency but rather by the spontaneity of the organisation and its supporters, to anything that solves a third world country’s problem or gender issues, which is the trend now.
An ad’s purpose now is to promote or sell a product or service, in any creative way possible.
But as these happens, traditional advertisers are being replaced by startups or online companies that sells a totally new product or service that didn't exist a decade ago, think Asos or Airbnb. And new media owners also started to appear, namely Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. Advertisers started to go straight to them and online content providers like Buzzfeed and Youtube are also capable to produce interesting contents themselves. Maybe we will soon reach a stage where current ad agencies are being pushed out by advertising departments owned by these new media or even in-house advertising department and we may go one full circle.