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The International Writers Magazine
: Advertising and Lifestyles

The Fight Against Complacency.
Clive Branson

We live in a cultural revolution where it’s not permissible to turn off the media environment, converting the country into a reactionary society (i.e. the consequences from the masses regarding Princess Diana’s death) with a girlie magazine mentality staged in a TV commercial and edited by news flashes.

We have become TV prostitutes, preoccupied with the trivial and the excessive, instead of the important and the meaningful. And God help you if you are accountable for your own actions! There is something deeply worrying and irresponsible about this endless self-gratification, this constant appeal to the baser instincts. It doesn’t make a society better, nor grow, but stagnant. We have become the latter part of the Roman Empire.

I am an advertising Creative Director and bemoan the demise of the "idea" from advertising. It has been replaced by inane celebrity endorsements (the corrupting influence of unfettered celebrity), banal product placements, sneaky editorial advertorials and conventional event marketing. There are a zillion TV channels out there, so your advertising must be different. It should be entertaining, informative and memorable, but a significant percentage of TV commercials have reached pure delinquency: ads are politically puerile, derivative, and degrading to one’s intelligence. As Bill Bryson stated: "TV has the powerful and insidious effect of lobotomizing its audience." Clients seem to forget what Rethink’s Chris Staples emphasizes: the "Ping-Pong Rule," which states you can play with only one ball at a time. "You have to identify the most compelling product benefit and advertise to that. Most ads have five ping-pong balls in them." On the other hand, advertising agencies have this knee-jerk obsession to hire young people and get rid of their experienced staff, but within a decade the average age will be in their twilight years, so what does a 20-something year old know about a 65 year old?

The struggle between enlightenment and amusement is less about morality than it is about influence and power. Yet, the principle of advertising hasn’t really changed in over 80 years. Daniel Starch wrote: "The business of the advertiser is not to create fundamentally new desires. That is not necessary and really cannot be done. Man already has certain desires present from birth, which are a part of his fundamental make-up. All that a seller can do is to direct these desires in certain directions, or stimulate them to action." He wrote that in 1923 for his book, Principles of Advertising. Hence, it is essential to be different, even daring, to stand out in a myriad of messages that bombard the viewer every day (the average consumer is exposed to 3,000 marketing messages per day).

Too many clients are play-it-safers, the creatures of complacency, the slaves of the ordinary. Advertising, instead of being innovative, is a reflection of its environment, orchestrated by the likes of a civil servant fear and viewed, not as a powerful tool, but as an evil necessity. Yet, having a business without advertising is a bit like trying to stop a watch to save time. Without effective creativity, a business or agency, can wither or die.

Good advertising tells you what a brand does and why you should buy it. But great advertising expresses what a brand stands for and invites you to share in its belief. Advertising, to my mind, is eighty percent psychology and twenty percent sell. For example, every beer commercial in North America says exactly the same thing about their beer – brewed for that clean, crisp and less filling taste.

Rarely do these ads inform us of anything else leaving the viewer to believe that all beers must be a like. The difference is in the selling approach – usually reverting to humour or sex appeal. The average guy surrounded by voluptuous women in a party or outdoor activity. The ads are implying that you, yes, you, the couch potato, are cool, popular and a chick-magnet if you drink this beer.
© Clive Branson March 14 2005
Creative Director
Ottawa, Ontario Canada

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