Great Advertising: What Is It?

Like most other industries, most of what the ad business produces is average. A little is really ugly, and a little is pretty good. And a very, very small amount is great.

I was racking my brain earlier trying to be positive and think of some current advertising that I think is great. I'm sorry to say that I couldn't think of any. Maybe I will. I don't have an inventory of all current advertising in my head, thankfully.

It's one of the reasons that I started doing the Advertising Greatness series on here. I was a little tired of slating stuff (emphasis on a little), and wanted to write about something that inspired me. Unfortunately it was hard to find in contemporary work, so I started thinking back to the really great stuff from the past.

Anyway, I got to thinking what exactly is my definition of Great Advertising? I mean, loads of people talk about it, but everyone seems to have their own definition. That's probably why opinion is so split about the same pieces of work. People are judging by their own criteria of what great advertising is. A lot of ad creatives judge great purely on whether they like it or not, or how creative it is - does it make them laugh? Is it clever? Is it original? Is it so so pretty? Some clients judge purely on whether it worked or not. You can understand both points of view by putting yourself in their shoes.

Here's a shot at my definition of what makes for great advertising:

1. It has real substance
2. It is delivered brilliantly
3. It worked

Substance means the advertising has to have at its core something that moves the dial, something about the product or subject that people relate to, or that changes peoples' perception to where you want it to be. It has to have something at its heart that means something to the people the message is aimed at, that will cause them to act in the way required by the brief set.

Brilliant delivery means that the way the message is delivered is well thought through and well executed. It doesn't mean it has to be very creadive, this is not about creativity for its own sake, rather creativity for the sole purpose of making the advertising more effective. Creativity that makes it clear which product or brand the advertising is for, that helps people to remember the key parts of the message.The right kind of creativity. Simple if simple is the best solution - but simplicity that doesn't treat me like I'm simple. More dense if that is what is required. Weird where weird helps the delivery of the substance. Straightness where straightness helps the delivery of the substance. Creativity and entertainment are not the aims of advertising, only it's means. Creatives, if you think that your creativity should not be judged on the success or not of the work to meet the objective, I'm sorry but you are very deluded about what your job is.

It worked. This one is crucial because if it didn't work the first two don't matter. Maybe you thought it was great advertising. It didn't work? It wasn't. Sorry. I'm not interested in your excuses. Only advertising that worked can be considered great. Meeting the objective of the brief is the one single constant that you can judge advertising by. That's why the business exists, that's why creativity in advertising exists. If people didn't fundamentally believe that creativity helps make advertising more effective, ad agencies would not have creative departments. Believe me.
However, moving the needle is not, for me, the only definition of great advertising. A successful campaign commercially is not necessarily a great campaign. Yes, it working is a prerequisite of it being a great campaign, but a great campaign doesn't just work. Advertising is an invasion into people's lives. It needs to be additive. Truly great advertising forms a part of a customer's positive experience of the company/brand.

Okay, so great advertising has to do the first two things really well, and work.
Currently, I see a lot of advertising that does one of the first two things well, and the other either not at all, or poorly. Ads with substance that treat me like a punk. And entertaining, creative ads that are meaningless.

It's a subject that divides opinion. What's your definition of great advertising?


  1. Great post, and some interesting thoughts - for me great advertising is simple, witty and product/service based. For print ads, it runs deeper and I also want good design and typography.

    Sam. R

  2. Definitely has to make me smile and has to have a strong concept that relates to the product.

  3. Like you said "Advertising is an invasion into people's lives. It needs to be additive."

    I don't want to sit and look at dated or boring crap I want to laugh, be challenged and be inspired.

    If your ad does that I'll be more likely to develop a relationship with it or even go and Google it and like it on Facebook for that matter.

    Ads that manage to blur the lines between 'selling' and entertaining will always be my favourites.


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