Soapboxes For Everyone

In the comments area on Gaping Void, Dwight Little recently had this to say, “Advertising as we know it is ineffective. Advertising as we know it is obsolete. Advertising as we know it is extinct.
Have I got that right?
Once again, I ask Hugh – and Keith and the rest – if “the ‘conventional’ ad biz must die a quick and sudden death,” what will replace it?
I’m not trying to be snarky or insincere. I am genuinely curious. I keep hearing people on this site gas on about advertising’s ills – and there is much truth to what you say. But I don’t hear too many concrete alternatives.”

Good work, Mr. Little.
Keith responded by saying, “What is going to replace conventional marketing/advertising? Producing the best products and services. Look, for the last 50 years, the bulk of what the consumer was offered has been shit. The role of advertising/marketing has been trying to convince the consumer that this chicken shit is chicken salad.”
Keith goes on to wax poetic about California’s In-N-Out Burgers, concluding that McDonald’s, despite all their ad dollars spent, can’t compete with In-N-Out in a corner-to-corner competition. In other words, quality with word-of-mouth behind it trumps junk with money behind it any day.
That part, I’m happy to buy. But, it remains to be seen if consumers will link together and demand better products and better service (to say nothing of better marketing) from firms that casually flaunt their flimsy offerings in our faces. At this point, I don’t see too many companies lining up to voluntarily dismantle marketing in favor of product development. So, it will take active, persistent and widespread consumer participation to drive this ship forward. And it’s not about the end of anything, certainly not the end of advertising. It’s about better communications creating more trust and tighter relationships.

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. For advertising to REALLY work, regardless of media, it has to be good. Great work works even better. Unfortunately, there’s far too little good work, and great work is virtually nonexistent. Why? That’s the question, and has been for decades, since the only difference between the crap of thirty years ago and the crap of today is that today there’s more of it, since there are more outlets for it to hit the consumer in the face.
    Good work, or great work, IS possible regardless of media. Look in the annuals. All it takes is a combination of ability, drive and dedication by everyone involved at every level (including the client) to do it. Getting that all-inclusive involvement is the virtually impossible trick, for everyone involved usually has a separate agenda.

  2. I agree with you, Clyde. There’s far too little great work being done.
    But great work can mask poor corporate practices, as is the case with Nike. If you lean toward Keith’s worldview, there’s nothing good about great branding when the company’s products (or principles) are in some way flawed.
    So we have multiple levels of concern. Mr. Little, like me, is concerned with cutting the bullshit. Keith dreams of the day when there is no need for ads. And then there’s the argument that people wouldn’t hate advertising like they do, if it was notably better.

  3. David:
    There are actually many examples out there of companies that have forgone traditional advertising and put their efforts into create a better “experience.” Starbuck’s, Urban Outfitter, Anthropologie and others have all by-passed the advertising fueled growth path and have done quite well. Even John Hayes, from American express had this to say:
    “Brands are not being built on advertising. If you fly Jet Blue, you talk about the experience. That’s how you build brands today, through experiences…Ultimately, it’s going to be about creating experiences for people.”
    And he’s put his money where his mouth is. 10 years ago or so, 80%+ of his advertising budget went to traditional advertising, today it’s something like 35%. Lots more companies are starting to understand the value of creating something more then a product for the lowest price.
    There will always be an advertising industry and the need for advertising in some format, but it’s very possible that our definition of what constitutes advertising will change a great deal.

  4. Thanks for drawing out more examples, David. I agree with you about creating experiences for the customer. In fact, I had this to say a few years back:
    To survive and grow in this new arena of “Advertainment” we must learn to create brand experiences for our client’s customers, not advertising. The consumer will settle for nothing less. Below-the-line shops already do this to some extent; thus, are much better positioned to create even better (deeper) brand experiences, and lead the way in establishing and sustaining enduring brand relationships with the consumer. These relationships are at the core of what’s sexy about advertising today.

  5. In a world of shit products and services, the advantage will usually go to the the company that can produce a better, HONEST experience. When a company can pull this off, their product or service becomes a huge component of the marketing. Call it buzz; I call it WORD OF MOUTH.
    Let’s face it, most of the advertising out there is a pack of lies; the consumer knows it and that’s why they don’t believe it anymore. For all of us that work in the ad biz, we all know advertising is the fabrication of bullshit; nobody will admit it because our incomes depend on fabricating those lies. Guess what? The consumer has been smelling shit for a while.
    As David mentioned, Starbucks was able to build a huge business with minimal advertising, their marketing was providing a superior experience to the competition. People talked, told their friends. They told their friends who told their friends, etc.
    Now, JetBlue is doing the same thing. Fly Jet Blue and you’ll tell your friends. Is there anybody out there that doesn’t know that JetBlue has leather seats, television in the head rests, nice employees and cheap fares? Yes, they stand out in an industry known for bad experiences.
    It really is that simple.

  6. Keith, I don’t think a “pack of lies” describes what we do. But I hear you.
    As for Jet Blue, I have yet to fly on that airline. But I do like leather seats and cheap fares. Are their seats two across or three?
    Midwest Airlines provides leather seats in two across configurations–first class seating all the way to the back of the plane. But their fares are not that competitive.