This Cage Called 'Advertising'

In case you haven't picked it up in these Drift posts over the years, I'm obsessed by words.

Words can elevate or crush; they can liberate, obfuscate, educate, denigrate, illustrate or illuminate. And words have a natural lifespan; they're born, they thrive, they slow, they fade and, ultimately, they die off. Take the word 'advertising' for instance.

In her guest blog turn on Mediapost, Clear Channel President & COO Suzanne Grimes jokingly suggested that it's time to ditch the A-word. Having already burned through terms like "earned media" and "ROI," she reasons, maybe it's time to 86 'advertising' as well. Grimes toyed with a couple of clunky replacements -- 'context-ertising' and 'adgagement' -- but coming up with a new name isn't really the point.

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It's ironic that 'advertising' is mired in intellectual and social decline at the very time when it's called on to underwrite virtually everything new that's happening in media, communications and entertainment. If you poll consumers, 'advertising' always gets unfavorable ratings (except of course for that really funny spot you saw for -- oh, what was it for?) To marketers, 'advertising' is seen as a cost center; an expense to be managed down by a pogrom of procurement people armed with spreadsheets. And in our digital world, the things we call 'ads' are processed, traded and shipped like so much industrial feed corn.

If you're tagged as someone who's "here to sell us some ads" you are immediately shuttled to an overworked, disillusioned "buyer." To the folks at the big table, 'advertising' is something tactical, executional, that happens down the line. You get delegated to the people you sound like, and the people who sound like advertising don't sound very interesting.

The answer may not be a catchy new word to describe 'advertising.' Instead, consider hitching the great things we do to the larger concepts of marketing, commerce and CRM. Start your meeting not with an assumption that the customer needs to buy some ads (he doesn't), but with the knowledge that he needs to sell a product, successfully open a movie, change a consumer's behavior. The seller or agency that focuses on the bigger marketing picture also gets a look at many more budgets, many more decision makers.

There's no hate here. I've been connected to the advertising business for over 30 years and it's done very well by me. In the end, this post is not even about how we see 'the business;' it's about how we think of ourselves and our own roles. And anyone content to simply buy or sell 'advertising' is already living on borrowed time.