Writing my post on advertising got me thinking about the representations of marketing people in the media. One of the many thoughts that crossed my mind was that the "ad man" [sic] is one of the most despised in popular culture. Along with the sales person and the publicist/PR person ("spin doctors’).
The stereotype: The ad guy is a bit of a trickster, perhaps a liar, who will tell you what you want to hear and make you like what you don’t … Wobbly ethics (if any). Slick.
Here are some of the fictional ad and PR people I came up with today. Please add your own.
Deceitful weasels: J. Pierpont Finch, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and pretty much everyone in Wag the Dog. I also remember faintly a British series set in an ad agency where just about everyone was pretty awful.
Unethical deceitful weasels: The tobacco industry. Example, the movie: The Insider
Positive but kinda clueless: Darrin Stephens, Bewitched (the TV show, not the recent movie) and two of the protagonists in the TV series Thirty Something. And both of those shows STILL had "bad/badder ad guys " as counterpoints to the more sympathetic "good guys."
Now, perhaps some advertising guys fit this stereotype, but no one I know. I guess that’s why we call it a stereotype 🙂 But, why do we have so little respect for the "ad man?" If TV and movies are anything to go by, we don’t believe a word of what we read/see in ads; we "know" they are lying to us.
But of course, that isn’t really true, is it? We do pay attention to ads, and sometimes — often — we purchase products as a result. But we can’t help wondering… did someone put one over on me?
Or the bane of my existence early in my career, the assertion from any and all that "I could have written a better ad than that…" In other words, no special skills required, anybody could do it…
All leading to no respect for the poor ad guy, even when she gets it right.
So my question is, does this cultural lack of respect for the practitioner and skepticism about the ad content contribute to the trend to less advertising (at least for small to mid sized companies)? Or is it just one of the symptoms? Are we quick to dismiss the form because we are so familiar with the negative stereotype that we easily convince ourselves that ads "don’t work?" Or is this negative stereotype just a manifestation of a world view that disparages advertising.
Now, really, the answer to these questions is pretty much irrelevant — the situation is what it is, and as practical marketers, we just need to get on with it. It’s just fun sometimes to wander onto more "philosophical" paths.
Next: my thoughts on trade shows.