Dear John: A break-up letter to advertising

By Bo Hellberg and Nadya Powell

I’M SORRY. I CAN’T. DON’T HATE ME.

I’m at the point where I think I have to break up with advertising
I really don’t want to. I’ve really enjoyed what we had. 
It was great and we used to have a really good time. 
I like ideas. You liked ideas. 
I like brands. You liked brands. 
We liked to make stuff that made people laugh and feel things. 
Make people dream. 
And we could, because we used to see the world differently to anybody else. 
But things have become difficult and you are no longer making sense to me.

YOU DON’T HAVE ANY DREAMS ANYMORE

You stopped talking about what we could do. 
You started cutting corners. 
Doing things on the cheap. 
In less time. 
And what’s worst is that you don’t seem to care.

Remember how we used to do fantastic new things?
You remember the weird and wonderful stuff we used to do in digital? 
All you want to do now is cheap display. 
You stopped caring about ideas and craft. 
Stopped having a point of view.

YOU HAVE A NEW LOVE. AND SHE’S CALLED DATA

Data. 
You just do what she tells you to, without thinking twice: 
Data tells you the target market is always millennials. 
Data tells you that when everybody zigs, you should zig too. 
Data tells you that a 3 millisecond view by an online bot is a reliable measure.
Data tells you that only way forward is programmatic everything.
And you just agree.

As if that Data knows anything about humans or originality.

The worst thing — is how she and you have turned our amazing planners into insurance salesmen whose sole job now it is to de-risk.

NOBODY WANTS TO HANG OUT WITH YOU

You used to be fun and glamorous. 
Everyone flocked around your great ideas, stories of travels and the headlines you made.
Now you’re a shadow of yourself. 
Always harking on about the old days.
What are you doing that holds anyone’s attention today? 
That would see eyes light up?

And it’s not just that people are leaving you. 
It’s that they are not joining your club in the first place. 
Because people are looking for purpose and passion
And you have neither.

YOUR NEW ‘FRIENDS’ THINK YOU TALK SHIT TOO 
So you’re trying to catch-up, get with the programme.
You’re running around with a bunch of kids. 
Influencers you call them. 
But you haven’t got a clue and they just smile and take your money. 
It’s like Britain’s Got Talent for advertising. 
And you buy anything Google and Facebook tell you. 
Because you secretly want to be them. 
You’re drunk on buzzwords like custom audiences, moon shots, machine learning and AI without a clue what it all means. 
And when I confront you, you bring your friend Data to intimidate me and tell me I’m wrong.

YOU CAN’T STOP LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

You use words like modern and diversity. 
How open minded you are and how you get culture.. 
Really? I don’t think you give a shit. 
You’re about as cultural and inclusive as the KKK.
You don’t represent the world you want to influence — because you have no respect for that world.
You just want to be with people who look like you. 
You’re in love with your own image. 
But there’s a whole world out there and until you see it, you’re not worth my time.

YOU HAVE NO BALLS AND NO IMAGINATION.

You used to have a lot imagination. 
Be fearless and bold and try new things. 
Seek out and reward originality. 
But now your benchmark is called mediocrity. 
And you lack the balls. 
When someone says jump, you ask how high. 
I’m fed up with your lack of an honest point of view. 
That you never protect ideas. 
So fuck you. 
You can have your offices, your ‘friends’. 
You can spend all your time with your fatso friend Data. 
Hope it makes you happy.

I’LL BE MUCH HAPPIER SINGLE.

I’m off to find someone else. Or stay happy and single.
Because there are many others out there who think creativity is a great thing. 
Who want originality. 
Who get that there are other audiences beyond millennials.
Others that want to do new interesting things. 
Work with people who aren’t like you.
Do things that makes people feel something.

BUT I’M WILLING TO DO COUPLES COUNSELLING.

Despite all this I hope you can change.

(Put your friend Data in therapy too so she can learn about people and not just numbers).

Maybe you need to scale back a bit and think about what’s important. 
Sell the big office. Spend time with real people again.
Read a book or two, rediscover how and why the world is changing 
And maybe you will start using the power of creativity for the right things.
Interesting things. 
Maybe then, just maybe, I’ll come back again.

Update: An extended version also featured in the Drum HERE.

This was first shared at our event titled ‘Is Advertising f**ked?’ at Shoreditch House on Wednesday 12th July featuring Nadya Powell, co-founder of Utopia, Bo Hellberg, ECD at large, Jon Wilkins, Chairman of Karmarama and Lucy Jameson, ex CEO of Grey London. You can see the full deck here: