What Do People Want From Advertising?

A lot of paper and oxygen is expended in the ad business arguing the toss over how best to use advertising. A LOT.

Some say this, some say that, some say 'tother. It's kind of amusing in a way given how long advertising has been around. There's always something new too, isn't there? Once upon a time it was the USP, then for a while the fashion was to never feature the product, then it all became about branding, rather than products, more recently the fashionable talk is about emotion, and heuristics, neuroscience and behavioural science.

But one thing that always bothers me, is that no one ever seems to ask what do people want from advertising?

Not you, or me. Not the client, not the planner, not the creative, not the creative director, not the director, not the creative technologist, not the industry commentator, not the strategist.

The person. The punter, the customer, the consumer, the target audience – whatever you want to call them.

Most likely, if you asked them, they would immediately say they're quite happy for there to be no advertising. But I reckon if you interrogated that a little, they would maybe accept that some advertising is useful.

I would wager that most normal people – if they accept that advertising has to exist to pay for television programmes, magazines, papers and other content – would like advertising to be honest, fair, transparent, truthful, not annoying, not patronising. Then at another level, to be entertaining or rewarding (in exchange for their time or interrupting their programme) and to serve some useful purpose to them as a customer.

The problem is, that doesn't sound like a lot of advertising to me.

It seems like in the industry we spend a lot of time arguing about what we think is right. And very little considering the point of view of those who are subjected to the results.


  1. Unfortunately moral obligations and business obligations sit on polar opposites. Whilst people may want transparency, entertainment or reward, if those things don't deliver higher sales then there's not an advertiser in the world that's going to willingly deliver on them.

    You stand on no moral high ground above other advertisers just because your method provides sales in a different way. Maybe the greater question you should be asking is: “Are we really just here to sell more sugar water? Or is there a bigger, more resonant, and fundamentally worthier goal we could — and should — be pursuing, like ensuring no human being goes thirsty?”

    But then that's not going to sell cola is it?

  2. Hmm I wonder if you've got the wrong end of the stick here Andrew? Maybe what I've written lacks clarity, or maybe it's been misinterpreted?

    This post isn't about moral obligations.

    It's about whether advertising is meeting the needs of the consumer.

    For what it is worth, I don't think it really is advertising's job to solve human thirst problem.

    However, back to the point, I wonder if advertising that started from the point of view of what the punter actually wants or finds useful, rather than what the agency would like to do, or the client wants to say, would actually lead to advertising that is more effective?

    That might sell cola, right?