Are Professionals Killing Marketing And Advertising?

Today Marketing Magazine published a good article by Craig Mawdsley about over-professionalism in marketing getting in the way of creating great advertising, a subject we agree with, but believe isn't just confined to marketing departments, but agencies as well. So we thought it would be a good day to reprise our post on the subject...

I was following some chatter on the old internet earlier, instigated by Armando Iannucci asking "Has politics actually come to an end? I'm serious. Does it work any more?".

Someone replied "What's Poisoned politics is the professionalisation, people going into politics for life. It's not normal." Someone else added "Politics has replaced government - politicians who know how to play the game, but no idea how to make things actually work".

I think there is some scary truth in that. Governments used to be made up of principled individuals who had a vision for how to make life better, and how to get there. But now it seems like the debate is more important than the subject being debated. Being seen to do the right thing is more important than doing the right thing.

I don't think that it's a problem exclusive to politics.

We live in the era of professionals. You can see it in business, in organisations like the FA and, unfortunately, in advertising and marketing.

When I first came into advertising, people who had studied marketing at college or university were few and far between. Almost every marketing person you met had come up through the organisation, and ended up there because they were good at it. Generally they had a great grasp on the realities of their business.

Now, almost every marketer you meet is some kind of marketing graduate. They are trained in theory, charts, diagrams, powerpoint.

I remember the hilarity when we saw our first Brand Onion - what a crock we all thought. But it was the exception. Now every brand has a brand onion. Or a pyramid, or a doughnut.

When we used to present work, you looked for a visceral reaction in the client. An understanding of why something would work.

Now, you just sense a series of check-boxes being mentally ticked off.

But this isn't just confined to the client side. Oh, no. Agencies used to be the stamping ground of interesting, lively dangerous free-thinkers and do-ers.

Agencies are now largely staffed by advertising's version of corporate drones. Advertising civil servants.

And people who have played it safe are at the top of the business. They have smarmed and politicked their way there, they kept their heads down and made the right moves. They didn't upset people, they didn't take risks, they just greased their way up the pole. They keep the holding company happy.

How someone can be professional in the field of advertising I have no idea. The best advertising comes from people who walk in every morning with no idea how they ended up there, and no idea how they came up with their last good idea. And if youdo approach something in some organised, structured process, I guarantee the result will look like exactly that.

We got an email the other day from some young person who said their life's ambition was to be an account manager. Fuck me. Poor bastards.

It's not just confined to the accounts side. Never has the ad industry's creative departments been inhabited by such a professional, organised, uninspiring lot. Who are these people who decided at age 17 that they wanted to be a creative? They scare the living shit out of me. This isn't like being a doctor you know, you can't learn it at college. What life experience and lively thinking has someone to offer who has been training themselves in the business of being a creative for the last five years?

I had one of those pointless internet exchanges with a creative the other day, because they wouldn't accept that there might be another formula to creating good advertising other than the one they were taught on their ad course.

In the end you have bow out of these things and allow them the last word, after all, as someone much more funny than I once said "The problem with arguing with stupid people is that they drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience'.

And to be fair, they weren't stupid, far from it. They were just a product of a world where professionalism, knowing how, doing it right, going by the rules, playing by the book, are encouraged.

We live in the era of professionals in advertising.

But, and I know I've asked this question before.

If people now are so much better trained, clued-up - professional - then how come almost all advertising is absolute crap?

The answer... No matter how hard you try, you can't professionalise your way to great advertising.

First published 15.5.13

2 comments:

  1. Cecil B. DeMille2 March 2015 at 13:44

    Creativity is a talent, not a skill, and as such isn't quantifiable in the way the marketing scientists and academicians want it to be. You can't teach it, but you can hone it.

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  2. Or as my father used to say: "Never argue with an idiot because passers-by won't know who's who."

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