Advertising. An Industry Of Accepted Norms.

A good Norm

I'm befuddled by one peculiar aspect of advertising.
For a business which is supposedly full of mavericks and creative thinkers, it loves convention.
There seems to be a herding instinct in the business, where everyone gravitates towards one way of doing things.
Maybe it's just lack of imagination?
Think of all the unspoken, accepted norms in the business.
There's a way that car advertising should look and behave.
There's a way to make an online brand name memorable.
There's a kind of work that wins creative awards.
The tag line should come at the end of a TV ad.
Beer advertising should be matey.
There's no difference between products.
The USP is no longer relevant.
Planners write the briefs.
A brand ad is worthy, a direct response ad is dirty.
No one reads copy anymore.
One big idea is better than lots of smaller ideas.
Young is good, old is bad.
Featuring the product is lame.

Ok, so that's just a few pretty crap examples, but you get the idea.

We are surrounded by hundreds of accepted norms that shape the way that we approach advertising. They influence the way that we even approach approaching advertising.

Then there are a whole other level of conventions that were going on without me realising, (until we set up Sell! Sell! that is) - accepted norms on a business scale.
How many people you need in an ad agency.
What kind of people should be in an agency.
How you should court the industry press.
How you should grow.
How you should charge for your work.
How you should behave towards clients.

Some conventions and accepted norms are based on common sense and good experience.
But many are just the result of bad habits and lazy thinking.

It's in the nature of the human brain to create patterns of behaviour, and the same is true for thinking.

We all know that creative thinking, if properly applied can make advertising work harder.

But by nature, we revert to old ways of solving problems unless we always actively question what we're doing, and question what is accepted.

Advertising should be a business of questioning and challenging. Of constantly interrogating convention and accepted norms to find a way of gaining an advantage for our clients over their competitors.

Yet it sometimes feels like, as a business, it's bound by and adheres to conventions and accepted norms like a fusty old gentleman's club.


  1. I totally agree that these advertising 'formulas' create predictable ads, but it's the fact that this kind of advertising makes agencies a lot of money that I find quite frustrating. They're low risk, fast turnaround, client pleasers and therefore (from a business point of view) an efficient way of working. No-one cares that they're not creative or unique to the product because they're comfortable, safe and bringing in the wonga.

  2. I think fear is behind this way of working - fear of being different, fear of having an unhappy/confused client and fear of criticism.

    Basically I think the industry as a whole needs to grow some balls and step it up!

  3. When did you last hear of an agency firing a client because of creative differences, or for that matter any differences? With margins being squeezed tighter than a nun's 'habit', compromise is the order of the day.

  4. To be fair Fallon got rid of Asda because the account did not allow for enough creative opportunities. This was swiftly followed by Fallon losing the Sony account during a repitch leaving them in a rather problematic financial position.

    Using Fallon is a bad example as they invariably try to push creativity with all work but my point is to maintain a successful, long-standing agency with continual growth you're likely to have to get a balance of work. Otherwise at best you will remain a smaller agency with a great creative reputation but not enough money or people to please a number of big clients at the same time.

  5. I'm not sure I follow, anonymous commenter, you use Fallon as an example, but then say they're not a good example. Personally I think Fallon are to be applauded for their efforts - someone to look up to for new creative agencies. The work that they produce may not always be the work that I would have done, but I highly respect their values and the way they go about it.

    But on your second point - continual growth is the accepted norm of business success in the modern age. But does a business really have to continually grow to consider itself successful? Is providing a quality product to a small group of clients not a good goal?

  6. 18:34 leo burnett fired nintendo.


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