Does anyone actually know what advertising is anymore?

I work in Advertising but it seems nobody knows what it is anymore.
Here is my very strong, very one-sided view.

So, Advertising — you’re probably already thinking TV ads, billboards & magazine ads. But are you thinking digital? Experiential? Social content? Influencer marketing? Video content? Social media ads? Why not? ‘Because there are digital specialists out there’ I hear you cry. Bollocks.

Advertising has got nothing to do with TV or print. Or not as much association as it currently has. Advertising is the art of selling. It’s the ‘thinking of an idea’ that best sells a product or service. It may even encourage someone do something new. But advertising isn’t, nor does it stand for, a medium. It stands for creativity & ideas that are aimed to sell.

Let’s put this into context.
You’re working at an advertising firm in the 60s and 70s. You need to ‘advertise’ a product. You sit down, think of a great idea and have something great to say. You’ve cracked it. But how can you get this idea into the world? Where will people see this idea of yours? Well, you know people read the newspaper everyday and you’re pretty confident they watch TV too. (There’s no Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, Vimeo, Medium, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Whatsapp or Slack yet). That’s it then, let’s put it on the box and buy some space in a newspaper. And that’s pretty much how it would have been. It was always idea first, then the media. Only after you’d solved the problem and found something new, exciting and different to say would you choose the best media to put it in. It was never and should never be media first.

With that in mind, skip forward a couple of decades and people think advertising creatives don’t understand digital. It isn’t the case obviously, and truth be told, they don’t need to. Digital is a vehicle to get a message to someone, just as TV is. Creatives need to understand people, as they are the true media. Understanding how people interact, finding true insights into audiences, listening to intuitions. This type of knowledge is much more important if you’re wanting to persuade someone to try something new. Today the question ‘How can we put this idea in front of our audience in the best way possible’ is a lot more complex with how many social media channels there are. But it isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t complicated for an advertising creative to get their head around. It’s a good thing. It simply means an advertising creative can connect with people in more ways with their ideas.

For me, to say advertising doesn’t know how to ‘do’ digital is just crazy. Maybe people think this because ad people question the measurements for success within the digital arena, as somewhere down the line, likes, follows, retweets and ‘interactions’ have become much more sought after. I mean 1,000 retweets and no sales would be considered a success. But if no-one buys what you’re selling, what’s the f**king point? ‘Well, we just want people to engage with the brand’ — WTF? Oh I get it, you want me to engage with a furniture brand, and want me to like their posts but you don’t want me to buy their product? Have we all gone mad? The only time that might work is if you’re already a well established brand and more concerned with the long term game. If you’re spending your marketing budget and not aiming to sell, then you‘’re being taken for a ride and pissing your cash against the wall.

Still, people will automatically ask for Facebook, Twitter & Instagram ads before they know what the idea is. Now, if you still don’t get the stupidity in that request then I’ve not explained myself or pointed out sufficiently just how ridiculous it is.


If you could take anything from this then I’d ask you to see advertising for what it is. Selling. And if people say ‘engagement with the brand’ — make sure you know how that engagement turns into a sale.

Famously, Bill Bernbach whilst talking about advertising, said “It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”

Advertising is selling. It’s ideas. It’s creativity. It’s persuading. It ISN’T just stuff that goes on TV or in print. It can transcend to any medium. New or old. Creatives know that the media is the people. And if you don’t have a decent idea then a shit idea traveling at the speed of light is still a shit idea when it gets there. Idea first, then decide on the media placement to get the best results.

Adam McGowan
Art Director
Thinker, moaner and brew drinker.