Shrivel Factor

As a maker of advertising, I’ve often had to confront the unsustainable mass consumption model my very existence, and the industry’s, relies upon. I’ve used this site, as you may know, to share many of my reflections on the matter.
Here’s one from another source, Adweek’s Brian Morrissey:

What happens when we move beyond the mass consumerism that’s propped up our economies for so long? For kicks, I often ask ad types this question during meetings to see the responses. I often get quizzical looks. This is impossible, I’m told. But is it? Many of the problems we face right now are at their root an indictment of debt-fueled consumption. Cheap credit made us feel rich to buy big houses, then use the fake wealth of them to buy more stuff. Cheap fuel means bigger cars, more pollution, etc.
Every step of the way, advertising was there to underpin this untenable cycle. We are a nation of spenders that needs to become savers. This is a major challenge for an industry premised on making us buy stuff we don’t need.

Marketing as service is a step in the right direction, for sure. But there are some problems marketing can’t fix. Reducing consumption across the board appears to be one them.
Allow me if you will to make a quick case for quality over quantity, in consumption of media and products or services. No one in advertising can say the world needs more advertising and keep a straight face. The world doesn’t need more advertising. What advertisers needs is better advertising. When the messaging is better, much less of it will do.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Dude, where have you been? It doesn’t matter if there’s more advertising or less, better or worse. Advertising is dead. It’s irrelevant. The consumer is in charge. She wants to have a conversation with us. Don’t you read the trades?

  2. I don’t read the trades. I mine them.

  3. There’s something more than a little cynical about Morrissey’s words, although not surprising from a reporter versus an actual practitioner. Advertising is not “an industry premised on making us buy stuff we don’t need.” Even Mad Men shows professionals selling versus displaying hucksterism. Isn’t the industry about building brands and distinguishing them from competitors? So long as the marketplace continues to be comprised of competitive offerings (and for now, it’s still illegal for monopolies to exist), advertising will remain necessary. Additionally, as long as the production of products and services remains mass versus individual (and there’s no reason to believe that companies will start offering totally individualized products and services – who could afford to remain in business like that?), advertising will remain necessary. The key thing to recognize, however, is that the ways to connect and communicate with people are dramatically evolving. What we do is not changing, at least from the most abstract levels. How we do it, obviously, is experiencing constant revolution. Granted, there are some problems rooted in advertising’s legacy of bad messaging. That is, the over-hype and white lies have created a lack of credibility and trust with consumers. That’s why they tune out the “traditional” techniques. But when advertising is well conceived and well executed, people continue to respond positively. Will America become a nation of savers? If so, we’ll need to create and advertise products and services geared towards savings. But it’s more likely, at least in the short term, that America will become a nation of smart shoppers, perhaps even frugal. That’s one reason why McDonald’s and Walmart are doing OK. Plus, consumers are showing they want more information about products and services before purchasing. Advertising must work to make these things more clear and accessible. Anyway, forgive the long-winded response. But proclaiming advertising’s demise based on a cynical—and ironically, over-hyped and stereotypical—definition of the practice seems wrong.

  4. The death knell of advertising has been rung so many times in my 30 year career that its laughable. Yes, we’re in a down cycle. Yes, easy credit distorted the market but so too will the absence of capital. Yes, consumers find most traditional advertising loathsome. Yet time and time again, brands use advertising to gain competitive advantage, often by promoting a new feature or value that trumps the competition. The latest example is that ridiculous half blanket half monk-wear called Snuggie that seems to be outselling the Whopper. The markets will come back eventually as will marketers and consumers. All that said, those who embrace Marketing as Service will find a welcoming consumer, eager to engage.