Why Is Advertising So Crappy?

The following essay was first published on The Ad Contrarian and is reproduced here in its entirety by permission of the author, Bob Hoffman.

Why Is Advertising So Crappy?

Like most sensible people, here at The Ad Contrarian world headquarters we do our best to avoid advertising.
This keeps getting harder and harder.
Despite all the witless proclamations of new age marketing gurus about the death of advertising, advertising isn’t just growing, it’s metastasising. Every click of a mouse brings us at least three ads. TV watching is at its highest level ever. Every person wearing a hat or a t-shirt has become a walking billboard.
Things that used to be just helpful have now also become advertising carriers — ticket stubs, museum maps, dry cleaning bags, milk cartons…
You can’t swing a dead media planner without hitting an ad.
And while advertising has gotten bigger and bigger, it hasn’t gotten much better.
I’m not one of those old guys who thinks that there was a golden age of advertising (or music, or movies, or literature) in which everything was brilliant and that everything since then has been crap. I believe that most advertising (and most music, movies, and literature) have always been pretty lousy, and today’s lousy is no worse than any other era’s lousy.
The reason most advertising (and artistic endeavors) are lousy is not that people set out to create crap. It’s that creating something good is really, really hard. And there are very few people who can do it.
The idea that we are all creative and that if we just free ourselves from the stultifying shackles of society we can unleash a torrent of creativity is juvenile nonsense. Creativity is rare and precious. Many seek it. Few have it.
With all the amazing advances in technology and communication, you would think there might be some concomitant blossoming of creativity. But there hasn’t been. Not in advertising, not in music, not in art, not in literature, not in movies.
Maybe that’s why our industry has become obsessed with technology and media. There have been impressive, sometimes startling, leaps of innovation and inspiration in these areas.
But, sadly, the “content” is just as crappy as ever.

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. Agreed…with a caveat.
    Creating something good is really, really hard. Creating something good in the design-by-committee world that is advertising is damn near impossible. Great, creative executions can be killed or dulled at so many different points it’s actually kind of a wonder than anything halfway decent ever emerges. Maybe it’s the restrictions of the creative brief, a CD who has his/her own ideas, a client who’s scared to take a chance, a VP whose daughter is majoring in advertising who doesn’t like the headline, the lowest-common-denominator that is the focus group, et cetera.

  2. adrefugee says:

    Nothing to argue with in Hofffman’s treatise but here is my issue…maybe he’ll write a post about people who do more talking than doing. Put plainly, after reading, I went to the web site of his eponymous agency to check out the work. By any objective measure it is, at best, out-dated and, and worst, pedestrian. Real crap. Bob needs to proselytize less and create more.