It was Gore Vidal who once said: “Advertising is the only true art form left in the Twentieth Century.” It may have been true once, but the standard of advertising quality has plummeted dramatically in the 21st century.
The world of advertising was once populated by creative geniuses who went on to be big stars in the worlds of film and literature (Tony and Ridley Scott, Salman Rushdie, Fay Wheldon) but advertising is no longer seen as a stepping-stone to a stellar creative career, but a factory for click-bait at worst, banal pan-global sales messages at best.
I’ve just seen an ad on TV with a talking dog, which is cute, but in each version he asks his owners what they are doing and they always reply they are checking their credit ratings. How boring. What a waste of a talking dog and after seeing it a dozen times, I have no idea which company is responsible, just that somewhere there is a talking dog looking for a new home.
An awful lot of traditional television advertising has migrated online, so television channels fought to relax the laws on sponsorship and product placement to bump up revenues. This has led to frozen potato company, McCains, for example, sponsoring the soap opera, Emmerdale. Before each episode (and after ad breaks) a roomful of ‘writers’ is filmed discussing plot developments and eating or using McCains’ products as props.
Unfortunately they only produce frozen chips, jacket potatoes and yorkshire puddings. We are meant to believe these people snack entirely on frozen potato products in their meetings. Once a week possibly, but at this rate they’d all contract scurvy. Then, during the programme, every hoarding, bus or shop is covered in McCains advertising. It’s all very uninspiring.
Like the talking dog ads, advertisers are increasingly turning to ‘cutesy’ ideas. One current annoyance is Haribo, sweet manufacturer and scourge of dentists everywhere. Their shtick currently is for adults to talk to each other about their favourite sweets, but their voices are over-dubbed by kids. It really is as sickly as it sounds and brings me to possibly the biggest scourge of advertising originality; globalisation.
Traditionally adverts were made for each individual market, but now, one ad tends to be filmed and then dubbed into individual languages, which obviously saves on production costs, but leads to homogenised pap, like Werther Originals or anything for Unilever or Procter and Gamble.
At least these companies produce something tangible you can actually purchase. The biggest rise in advertising expenditure is from companies who produce nothing, like price comparison websites. The internet may have its advantages, but a business based on algorithms leads to incredibly dull advertising. Literally, companies who produce nothing, advertising nothing.
As I mentioned, an awful lot of advertising has moved from TV to the internet and I fail to see the real advantages of this for anybody. What is more annoying than reading an article on a website and then a pop-up ad appears, blocking what you are looking at? This is incredibly intrusive and has negative consequences for the advertiser in two major aspects.
The closer an ad gets to you, the more annoying it is. I was thinking about cutting my toenails the other day and an popped up on a feed for some nail clippers. It freaked me out. If you see an advert on television, you can take it or leave it, but on the internet it is literally thrust in your face and makes the product seem confrontational.
For advertisers, television adverts have been researched for decades, for example by BARB (British Audience Research Bureau), using selected viewers across regions; the samples are then extrapolated to show an advertiser exactly what he has got for his money in terms of viewership and operates to agreed industry standards.
On the internet an advertiser essentially pays for a certain number of clicks on an advert. I mostly only see an online ad if I click on it by mistake, which is often their annoying intent and I then shut it immediately. But they then pay for my click.
And what is to stop the likes of Google or Facebook from employing people simply to click on ads and watch their ad sales ringing up? Only a thoroughly dishonest company would sink to these depths, but what do you expect from behemoths who can’t be bothered to pay their taxes?
So, along with privacy, self-respect and hundreds of other good human traits, the internet is also responsible for the death of advertising.
At least until John Lewis reveal their latest Christmas abomination any day now.