Power in Advertising

Advertising always get a bad reputation, primarily due to the things associated with it: pop-up windows and web elements that interrupt your browsing experience, Mad Men, the emphasis of industry on “image,” which equates it to being disingenuous, the exploitation of weaknesses in order to create space for products that consumers don’t really need. You’ve heard people make comments, usually with expletives, about how advertising sucks.

These have always been the barriers I have to eradicate when family or friends ask me about my job. My mom probably doesn’t think being in this industry is the best use of my time, efforts and contribution to society. True, I am not changing the world through my job; I’m not getting people out of poverty, or providing them with food on the table. I am actually convincing people to buy more products that could be causing them to spend more of their money and ironically, for someone who serves a major food corporation, I am not feeding the hungry. This is OK, because we’re not in the business of giving charity. We’re in the business of growing our clients’ businesses. Since I don’t get to do anything charitable in my everyday work, I look for other outlets where I can actually do something good for humanity in my own small way (volunteering at UNICEF, etc).

However, what I value about the work I do is I am learning the very useful skill to persuade. Advertising, along with PR– its sister in marketing communications– is about convincing people. It could be about convincing them to buy a product right now, or think of a brand in a different way, or remember a brand as they’re doing their shopping at the mall or grocery store. It’s all about creating awareness of a brand, an image of favorability, in order to lead them to purchase products. Getting people to purchase products leads to growth for brands, and ultimately, the whole enterprise.

The skill to persuade is very powerful. You could lead people in the direction you want. It’s a kind of superpower. In the case of my job, we work to either get more people to buy our client’s products, or get the same people to buy more of our client’s products. At an agency, the thinking is if we make our clients’ happy and prove that the investment they spend in media is effective, then the client continues to sign with us and we grow our company’s revenue. We have proven time and again our value to the client, which is why we continue to be their media agency. 

When we are able to develop in us the skill to persuade, I’m realize how powerful that can be. People really do follow you. Presented with the right proposition, people really do change their mind. This is why there needs to be responsible people who are in this industry. Taking into consideration both clients and their various agencies, I don’t know if there’s enough people who take this responsibility upon themselves and makes it a point to be good stewards for consumers. Understanding how to use this power for the benefit of both consumers and clients is important.

It is not a zero sum game: if client’s win, consumers don’t necessarily lose. But when advertising becomes manipulative and turns into the exploitation of human vulnerability, whether it’s physical (hunger), mental (need to be knowledgeable), social (need to be considered part of the “in” crowd), that’s when it could become detrimental. It doesn’t have to be like this, and it won’t be if we have the type of professionals in place who understands their responsibility to the public. Sadly, I am not seeing more of these people in the industry at large.

Advertising is part of the media industry: if we believe as a society that we need to have responsible journalism, we also need to have responsible professionals in marketing communications (clients and professionals involved in advertising, PR, creative agencies, etc).

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