Has Advertising Jumped The Shark?

Usually when I write an essay like this I try to make a point or an argument about an issue facing the advertising industry. More often than not the issues I address are something that’s been on my mind for a while, something that I’ve been trying to come to terms with and reach some kind of conclusion. Not this time. This time I only have questions and the answers are simply not to be found.

Are we trying too hard? By “we” I mean creative executives in the advertising industry. Are we trying too hard to entertain our audiences (and maybe our clients)? Are we so desperate to win new business, engage audiences and get consumers to pay attention that we’ve lost sight of our primary responsibility?

I know the ad industry has been trying to entertain audiences for a long time using a toolkit that includes humor, sentiment, drama, pathos, et al. But at the same time, we’ve also been diligent about trying to inform and, ultimately, sell something.

But I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. My fear is that too many of us are acting like screenwriters and television showrunners. The endgame now seems to be to entertain above all else, even when it comes at the expense of delivering impactful messaging about a brand.

This especially came to mind recently as I watched the Super Bowl. In the aftermath of the game, industry pundits lionized the Tide spots as amazing work, but I beg to differ. Entertaining, yes, to a degree. But effective and commercially impactful? I think not.

Why? Because when we have to mock the very concept of advertising in order to advertise our client’s products or services then I think we’ve gone off the rails. And that’s what the Tide ads did. Make fun of beer commercials and then launch into a jarring segue about Tide. Mock traditional car ads before an awkward push into a Tide message.

Here’s the key question I want to ask: Have we, as an industry, jumped the shark? For those of you who don’t know (or forgot) what that phrase means, here’s what Urban Dictionary has to say:

“Jump the Shark: a term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity. Origin of this phrase comes from a ‘Happy Days’ episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis. Thus was labeled the lowest point of the show.”

From where I sit, the Tide ads were little more than a horribly snarky and sarcastic shot at traditional (and effective) advertising. They made fun of some iconic marketing and laid to waste decades of solid strategy and creative work.

This happens because agencies and creative executives get cocky after they enjoy some degree of success. They think, like the Super Bowl spot for Febreeze, that their “bleep” don’t stink. So they cross a line. It’s happened a few times before and will doubtless happen again.

The influence of this kind of advertising can be pervasive, but it doesn’t do our industry any good. In fact, it can cause enormous damage because it’s not doing what marketing is supposed to do—sell products.

And that’s the bottom line. Yes, advertising should entertain, but that is not its first (and foremost) responsibility. And that’s especially true when your client is paying $5 million for 30 seconds of precious airtime like the Super Bowl LII advertisers.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’ve just been in this business too long to appreciate newer trends that younger audiences not only enjoy but genuinely want. As I said, I just have a lot of questions that I find difficult to answer. But they bother me.

The trend on this year’s Super Bowl was to make fun of marketing, and it reached its zenith with the Tide spots. But I know our industry can do better. I know because one marketer actually delivered great advertising, and they did on the Super Bowl. Which one? This one.

Now that’s classic good work!


Just like the current trend in creating six-second TV spots, this will be brief.

Everyone’s heard about six-second ads. OK. They make sense—to a degree. I get it. The TV networks can sell more ads in a 30 second pod, etc. It’s a way to maximize time, and there’s a justifiable argument for it—consumers online don’t watch content longer that 10 seconds. Those annoying lead-in ads on YouTube only get five seconds of play. Our world has a shortened attention span, probably brought on by millennials.

But I believe there’s another reason why no one watches more than five seconds of TV or video ads. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because the ads stink. There, I said it. In my opinion, the vast majority of video ads are terrible. Not interesting. Not engaging. Not clever. Not informative. Not entertaining. (I actually wanted to say that 99 percent of all advertising is crap, but my PR guy wouldn’t let me.)

The cynics out there will no doubt push back and indict me for being an old geezer dribbling on and on and offering nothing more than a clichéd argument that everyone’s heard before. Maybe so.

But let me ask you this—why is it that we won’t watch more than a few seconds of an ad but will gladly spend six hours a night binge-watching “Broadchurch”—and still want more? (By the way, season two is much better than season one).

It’s not impossible to make ads that are just as rewarding as our favorite long-form entertainment programs. The Super Bowl is a good example. As a society, we watch those ads and talk about them as much as we talk about the game itself. Maybe more. Why? Because they’re good. They reward us for watching them. They’re fun. They’re entertaining. They’re interesting. They’re well made.

And that is precisely my point. It’s not about length—it’s about quality. It’s about professionalism. It’s about caring enough to do the very best work we can possibly do. We have to make sure we reward the viewer. It doesn’t matter if it’s six seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, 60 minutes or two hours. There must be a carrot at the end of the stick.

Are you still reading? Just checking. Someone once told me nobody reads articles longer than 250 words. This one clocks in at 401. Hope I didn’t overstay my welcome.


Why You Should Hire A Marketing Partner That Likes Being Married.

We had this insight a ways back. We looked around the two offices and noticed that everyone that’s married, has been married a while and happy. mmmmm, that’s odd in our business. But, think about it. We are all long term relationship people. We hate dating, and chasing, and love the rythem of a great relationship. We work at it, and make sure the relationship is strong. Not chasing a new spouse the second we got married.

I have always said, one of the good qualities in a ‘new business” person is that they love to date. They have the ability to actually ask some one out on a date. But get them the hell out of there after that. Not us, we like the 5th date, the 2nd year. The feeling of knowing each other over the good times and bad.

OK, just checking here, are you getting this metaphor? See, I, Trisha,Bill, Lisa…. We are the spouse, YOU! the future employee, or client are the other? See the connection. It’s in our DNA to be a good spouse? Coworker and partner. Hire some fancy flash in the pan agency that wins and looses business, and you will become one more angry divorced client! So, I ask, and it’s painful, cause it isn’t natural. Want to go out on a date with us?

Some Thoughts On Our 15 Years In Business And A Lifetime Passion!

The above photo was taken over 22 years ago, the below shot last week. This July marks 15 years since I decided to try this business on my own, since I walked away from the big meetings, politics and corporate drama. To be fair, my time spent at big ad agencies was pretty good. The last big shop I worked for was Arnold, and it is an amazing company. And because of my experience there and at other big shops, I thought I could make a difference by striking out on my own.

Of course 15 years ago we all lived on a different planet. In total, I now have over 36 years in the business I love, and I feel I’ve mastered all sorts of media. But let’s face it, none of us were prepared for what was about to hit when digital communications came to the fore. Yes, many smart folks predicted what was coming, but even they couldn’t foresee the speed of change.

The good news for me and other small agencies is that unlike the big shops we can change on a dime—and often charge a dime to do it. So we adapted. And in so doing we learned a few things along the way. Here’s a bit of the wisdom I’ve gained during 15 years under my own shingle.

No one is an expert at anything anymore. We’re changing so quickly that regardless of all the pontificating and white papers, a room of creative thinkers outdoes a guru any day of the week. Let’s not forget, even Steve Jobs needed Lee Clow.

A truly great, big creative idea still lasts longer and has more impact than any trend or whiz-bang new technology. Remember, BMW is still called the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” That campaign was developed in the 1970s by Ammirati & Puris.

New technology is your friend. Don’t be afraid to try it, and allow your creativity to use it! Even if you don’t pay attention to new technological developments and make adjustments to implement them at your agency, your competitors will.

The more you know, the less you really know. Bob Dylan perhaps said it best. “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

We live and work in a service business. Serve your clients and don’t be a pain in the ass. When they say “jump” you don’t have to say “how high,” but you do need to respond to them in a timely, professional and helpful manner. Don’t forget—you work for them.

Advertising is a business where we sell our time being passionate about the companies we represent. Find something in your work you can be passionate about. Your client can tell real enthusiasm from fake passion.

You spend more time at work than you do at home. Make work like home. Become friends with your co-workers. Spend time with them and get to know about their lives. It makes a difference when you know more about a person than just what he or she does for eight hours a day. And never take your work home! It gets confusing. Keep things separate.

A good idea can come from any place, from anyone, at any time. This has been my philosophy since I started in this business, and it’s the secret to great ideas, creating a fun place to work, and happy clients. It breeds confidence in your employees when they know they have a place at the table and their voices will be heard.

Be honest—to yourself, your employees and your clients, even if it’s going to kill you. Include them all in big decisions. No one likes to be left out of the game. Inclusion breeds transparency and transparency creates honest, sincere and lasting relationships.

Be financially fair. Trust your clients to pay you fairly, and they will trust you. Do the same with your staff. We’ve returned unused retainer money to clients, and we’ve we handed out raises to people before their time is due. It’s the fair thing to do.

Hire people based on chemistry. Of course you need people who can do the job and do it well. But if a candidate has a great book and resume but seems like a jerk, show him or her the door.

And the single most important lesson: Family first, work second, clients third. I have been happily married for over 30 years and have two great kids. A happy family person does great work, provides leadership for a great staff and makes a great client happy. Result: the circle of the ad life is complete.

I’m wondering what the next 15 years will bring, but one thing I’m sure of is this: If I take my own advice and keep following these lessons, I’ll be just fine.


Maybe I Am Working The Staff Too Hard?

Ya, this happened. I came out of a meeting and this is what I found. Okay? Is there a protest going on? Did some of the folks forget that the grape Kool-aid in the fridge is for a special moment? Maybe it’s just a way to take a break from a very fun and intense three week period with a little Yoga!