Ad Agencies to Blame for Recession?


By: Bob Gilbreath  24 April 2009

It’s an unfair assessment, but the sooner we admit our problem, the sooner we can drive a solution.



There is no shortage of people to blame for the economic crisis that we find ourselves in today. Rogue traders, greedy i-bankers, poor government, and credit-card companies just to name a few. But yesterday I discovered the latest group in the bull’s-eye of angry public opinion: those of us who work at advertising agencies. It’s yet another shot against a group that is traditionally rated alongside lawyers and used-car salesmen in terms of public respect, and another example of how we need to collectively get our act together.

Harris Poll released on April 15 asked more than 2,000 people, “How much responsibility, if any, should the following groups take for the current economic crisis because they caused people to buy things they couldn’t afford?” As you can see in the chart above, advertising agencies received the highest share of the blame among the group, with 66% of people assigning us at least some responsibility for the country’s troubles.

Interestingly, I tweeted this survey result yesterday and got back some interesting responses. (Side note: This proves another real benefit of Twitter; you can get instant feedback and create a “micro-discussion” at any time). Some of the responses were:

  • @leighhouse: “Could be that 66% of consumers are just looking to blame someone, anyone to blame”
  • @caffeinatedkate: “That article makes me think of someone blaming the baker for making the donuts they can’t stop eating”
  • @adamkmiec: “We share part of the blame. We don’t have to do the work. Are agencies doing cigarette ads part of the prob?”
  • @LeighGeorge: “Sounds like the Twinkie defense to me ;)

Three of the four responses here show a very rational defense of our industry. I would also throw in there that the survey is pretty slanted toward putting ad agencies in the worst light—after all, where are the other groups that bear a lot of the responsibility? The people at the Harris Poll even admit that, “Americans are angry and upset about the state of the economy and need someone or some group to blame.”

I feel this survey and this view of advertising agencies is unfair. But then again, everyone was warned at an early age that life is not fair. We as an industry have to accept society’s judgment: We’re currently seen as part of the problem.

But we can choose to do something about this perception and strive to be part of the solution. Every person in our industry can choose to shift away from the activities that anger consumers, and embrace the meaningful-marketing mantra that I’ve been dedicated to sharing with you here.

Years ago agencies started to shy away from certain products that fell across the moral line as judged by the court of public opinion; the biggest example is cigarettes. Many passed on the chance to collect millions in fees because it was not worth the ethical cost. It’s going to take a lot longer, but what if account planners, creative directors, and client service managers around the world woke up tomorrow and decided to begin dedicating themselves to more meaningful marketing—and started driving their clients and teams to accept the reality that interruption is no longer working, nor is it responsible.

And if I get off my earnest high horse for a minute, this is not just about doing work we feel more proud of—it’s plainly about doing the kind of work that consumers will choose to engage with and tell their friends about. It’s the kind of work that is going to keep meaningful-marketing practitioners employed.

So let’s admit the reality that we’re part of the problem, and start striving to lead the world to a much more meaningful solution. In the next few months, create a community for like-minded marketers. It’s going to be a kind of tribe that I hope will become much bigger than me and much bigger than Bridge Worldwide. And I hope you will choose to join us.

Source: Ad Agencies to Blame for Recession?


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