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The ad hominem attacks on the ad critics: who is allowed an opinion?

I've noticed an uptick of a particular style of comments recently. There's those who will jump to "you are bitter / you are a hater" retort. Then there's the "what work have you done?" resumé-demanding retort. Then there's the scanner, s/he who reads the headline and will post replies on what they assume the article says, rather than finish reading it. The scanner might have been born from too much twitter.

When I was a young ad-pup at school, I remember how I had created a bad poster. It was terrible, and John Gillard ripped it apart (quite literally, screw that it had taken me hours to draw this work pre-computer print out days), and snapped at me: "Will you be standing at every bus stop explaining this ad to every punter that reads it?" No, of course not. "Then make it impossible to misunderstand." and off he went in a huff while I, fuming and beet red, realized that he was absolutely right. I shan't defend my work to strangers, I shall make it better. To learn how to take criticism gracefully was part of my ad education. Paul Arden told us all to not to seek praise, but to seek criticism. Only then will we improve.

I'm wondering if this new generation less prone to be able to give, and take, criticism? And who exactly, is allowed to critique ads? The Ad hominem and ad feminam attack comments here seem to often come from a place of personal injury. Examples, The Alpha1 stunt I thought was lame got this comment from the agency that made the ad, the Depressed copywriter just called me "bitter" for snarking, I've even had my life threatened more than once, and I've lost count at how many times I've been called a bitch.

But sure sure, I'm small potatoes. I'm nobody. I'm not allowed to critique advertising until you've all inspected my Lions first. Right.

Does this happen to everyone, I wonder? Lets ask Luke Sullivan He is an undeniable USA bonafida ad-giant Lucky Luke, he has his own blog, his best selling ad book Hey Whipple has been released in several editions, and he has written a self biographical book on his childhood called "Thirty Rooms to Hide In : Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic" which he's currently doing a book tour with. He's ranked one of the 15 most important thinkers in advertising by business insider today. He's on the chair of the ad dept board at SCAD, he taught generations of young ad pups at Creative Circus and Miami Ad School, he raked home the awards at various shops. Is he allowed an opinion? He has more lions than all the US zoo's put together!

I asked him if this newfound "you're bitter / hater" stuff might be a child of the digital creative crowd. His response.

Now, as for your hypothesis....I do not think the bitter/hater syndrome is a child of the online ad industry.
These people have a term: trolls.
You know, those horrible things that lurk under bridges in fairy tales.
I have done some reading about this phenomenon and if my memory serves, it is a result of how the internet was originally designed, I mean waaaay back when they set it up, it is designed to allow anonymity.
And it is this anonymity that provides the bridge for the trolls to live under.
Trolls are by nature cowards. This anonymity allows them to spew their vitriol and poison without culpability. It is my hypothesis that if you look at the source of all these mean-spirited remarks, 98% of them are posted anonymously. Because they are cowards. If you have a strong opinion, stand behind it. Otherwise you are no different than the mean drunk hidden in the crowd at a football game who tosses an empty liquor bottle at the ref for a call he disagrees with.
On the other hand, anyone with personal integrity and a bit of calcium in their spine will publicly stand by and own an opinion they post, even if it is an unpopular one.
This issue of trolls is a fairly new one. Over on YouTube the trolls call everyone "gay".
But mean-spirited cowards are an old cliche and are not substantially different in any way from the idots scrawling penises in the bathroom stalls at the bus station.

My point is the same as John Gillard's. If you aren't willing to stand next to every billboard, online ad, print ad of facebook app you ever make and explain how it is supposed to be received by the consumer, you will simply have to learn how to suck up some of that critique and sort out what points may or may not help your work improve. People in the industry and people outside the industry will be looking at your work. Your first line of defense is to make it better. And as for everyone joining us in the comments, we talk about the work first. So should you.

New post: The ad hominem attacks on the ad critics: Are trolls simply uncreative?

Update Luke Sullivan has made a post on his own blog too: Trolls are internet bullies and cowards.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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AnonymousCoward's picture

I think the troll analysis is a fair one.