Whose choir are you preaching to?

“Mr. Clean represents patriarchy from some disgusting bygone day.”

“In a horrible fat-shaming society like America, Kool-Aid’s mascot is body positive. And it’s about time.”

“The only thing more horrifying than Pearl Drops racist all-white toothpaste is its anti-science stance on fluoride."

“Even KFC has to hide the fact it is from Kentucky. Because Kentucky is the south. And everyone knows the south is made up of nothing but racists. If you like KFC, you’re racist, too.”

Those headlines are coming to an ad blog near you. But not this one, of course. Rest assured, dear reader, that the people who are for Adland, are not that bat shit insane. We leave the increasing insanity of the rabid social justice warrior to the other blogs you know. They often judge ads through an extremely myopic lens so warped it’s a wonder they don’t need physical therapy from all the straining. The ones who judge ads based on everything but the idea behind the idea, which is what we should be judging the ad on. Give credit for credit’s due. At least certain ones like Jezebel live up to their names.

Adweek on the other hand, is a different story. Lately it has jumped on the same clickbait grabbing, frothy mouthed opinion piece masquerading as #Truth. And my question is, why is a once decent trade mag wallowing in the pigpen? Why has the focal point turned from "Will this ad persuade me?" or even better "Will this ad persuade the intended target market who probably isn't me?" to "How offended should we be?"

Before I answer, let me share a story: Last week I presented some work to our GCD’s. I believed in the work. They on the other hand, did not. Beyond not believing in the work, they made a joke wondering if the creative teams who made it were on LSD or drunk when they came up with it. Never mind the GCD’s asked to see “different,” work. Never mind the work was 100% on strategy. Never mind the fact it was the eighth weekend in a row the teams had worked. Beyond the complete lack of respect in their response, their feedback was useless. It was subjective, and harshly so. Not only were the teams insulted, they walked away with no more idea how to get work approved than before they presented.

This is how ad blogs are behaving. And that’s troubling. Because they aren’t critiquing the ad so much as taking a hardline stance against the ad’s messaging. They aren’t looking at the strategy of the communication so much as knee-jerk reacting to the end result because #science #truth #abortion #racism #climate #whatever. All the more absurd when you remember often times the ads they’re criticizing aren’t always ads from brands that have anything to do with science, vaccines, abortion or climate. They are so incredibly closed-minded and so incredibly biased, they’re like walking Archie Bunkers. Except they’re on the progressive side, of course. But outside of TV and and blogs, no one is that one sided. Humans are more complex than that.

When I sometimes read these ridiculous “analyses” I start thinking-- it has to be a joke, right? Like comedy masquerading as bad performance art?
I believe it is a joke. At least partly. As we’ve said before, with few exceptions, journalism is dead. The bar now isn’t as lofty as fostering a deep exchange of ideas or a proper analysis among people who may disagree but want to understand a different opinion . No, now the bar is “shut the other side up and get as many likes and retweets as possible.” If we can get a bevy of comments that vehemently refutes or supports the opinion piece in the comments section, so much the better. We don’t moderate that shit anyway, so have at it.That last part is extremely important in showing how much journalism has changed. In original ink and paper newspapers, letters to the editor were moderated to keep the crazy in the attic where it belonged. Now the door is wide open. It’s simple math, too: The crazier the comments, the more prejudiced the article.

The fault of this of course, lays squarely at the feet of the authors, who haven't worked for an ad agency ever, let alone stepped foot in one, and have absolutely no idea what the process of coming up with an ad entails. Let alone selling it, focus grouping it and producing it.

To be fair and give props where props are due, Adland isn't the only blog that still gives a shit about advertising. George Parker's Adscam is hilarious, plus he swears a lot and likes Kate Moss. Like really likes Kate Moss. He also works in the business. Bob Garfield, who to my knowledge never worked in advertising, understands the point of advertising and its flaws more than a lot of people who work in advertising. And Mark Copyranter Duffy, is another example of how you can be subjective about advertising where it matters most while still understanding advertising's function.

So now let's get to the Adweek Catholic piece. Either the author is so ignorant of American history they don’t know Catholics have had a bias against them since the colonies, or they know and they don’t want to destroy the one-sided narrative of their hit piece lest the likes and retweets drop. Because it’s all a joke, you see.
Generation Narcissist isn’t happy until they are part of the story. Trolling has replaced objectivity. And both “journalist,” and commenter are only happiest when their air of superiority is lorded over the rest of us. God’s work indeed. I wonder if every workday at these companies begins with the question: “How can we make this story more racist/homophobic/sexist?”

Actually, no I don’t.

What I really wonder is, if you are working in advertising, and know the feeling of having to endure your own creative directors dismissing your ideas for invalid, stupid and absurdly subjective reasons, how long will it be until you stop reading the blogs who shit all over your work for the same reasons? How long will it be until you can no longer take them seriously? More importantly if I am a brand, when will I start taking my money elsewhere?

If what happened over Gamergate is any indication, the answer is, soon.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Mike's picture

I agreed with your argument and planned to repost this to social media until I saw what article you were taking offense to. The ad is actually quite ridiculous. Evangelicals or Protestants could just as easily cry these same crocodile tears and be just as wrong.Since when are Catholics are the only sect that actively opposes same sex marriage and since when are they being oppressed and forced into the closet for it?

Tom Megginson's picture

Thanks for your opinion piece, Kid Sleepy. I also didn't have a particular problem with that AdFreak piece (and went on to post about it on Osocio) because the ad it critiqued was pretty execrable.

As you know, I toe both sides of the line between strategic analysis and social outrage in my own work. I also work in the industry, and I know the difference between an ad's intended result and its collateral PR damage (unintentional or otherwise). But that's the reality we live in. Ads are seen by people with all kinds of opinions, out of context, in a time when big brands are in full-time damage control mode.

To me, this is actually a very interesting time. A small brand, with a focussed target market and little to lose, can happily troll sensitive groups outside their customer base and benefit from the backlash. A larger brand, with multiple audiences and product lines, has less to gain and more to lose by pandering to the select and provoking the rest.

If a brand wants to be piggishly sexist, it gains in popularity among the ladmag crew and loses among feminists and allies. If a brand wants to be LGBT-positive, it gets a bunch of love from the social justice crowd and a call for boycott from One Million Moms. These are marketing decisions, and they are publicly scrutinized in ways advertising never has been before.

There are also the unintentional insults, which require a brand to take a stand on something the team wasn't even considering when the ad was created. But they, too, can help brands to become more sensitive. Or more edgy.

I guess what I'm saying is that an understanding of the broader social environment, and an acceptance that someone will see the worst in your work, is essential to "what the process of coming up with an ad entails." A clueless ad made in India can damage a brand in the UK, or USA. Or vice-versa. Everyone is the audience now, targeted or not. And we just have to deal with it.

kidsleepy's picture

Not sure I agree with you that advertising was never so publicly scrutinized before these times. Calvin Klein ads always provoked the pearl-clutchers. And Outpost.com fired gerbils out of a cannon in 1998 to much scrutiny.

What has changed is our reactions to anything put in front of us now. Online life has made us so used to trolls dropping online bombs that even when something is made with sincerity we choose to believe otherwise. I have no idea whether this particular ad was or wasn't meant to troll, in that sense, mind you. I do think it's presumptuous to assume so.

I agree that everyone may be an audience now. Potentially. Big wide world or no, one thing hasn't changed when it comes to advertising. The majority of people out there actually do not care about an ad's message, one way or the other because they don't care about advertising. They aren't paying attention. 62% of the America's population ignore the ads on social media. 144 million people use AdBlock plus globally, and that number is growing daily to the point where 1 in 7 people in the UK are ignoring ads. If this is the case with online ads, it is fair to assume they're being ignored in other media as well.

And yet now there is a cottage industry of online trades who profit from constant outrage. And maybe, just maybe, in some instances, the outrage may be a touch warped.

Case in point: Protein World. An ad it is fair to believe was definitely meant to provoke strong opinions although I won't use the word troll here as in my mind the word troll should be reserved for certain dire instances only. Perhaps the UK agreed with my assessment. Because in a country of 60 million, just 374 people complained to the ASA about the Protein World ad. To put that in context we're talking about .0006% of the UK's population who took umbrage with it. The ASA ruled Protein World Beach Body ad wasn't socially irresponsible. Knuckle dragging humor? Sure. Sexist? If you must.

But does every ad we don't personally agree with in terms of our social or moral center need to be taken out back and shot with such vitriol? I don't think so. Do we have to look at every last ad or thought or word we don't agree with as something that needs to be shut down, removed, banned and torched? No, I really don't think so.

Lest you think I'm arguing against strong criticism, let me assure you I am not. I am however, arguing in favor of more objectivity when it comes to analyzing ads. I am deeply disturbed by the closed-mindedness, dismissiveness and extreme air of moral superiority that is being used to discuss an ad whose message we disagree with. I'm also disturbed by the hypocrisy that allows us to call out the National Guard when we see a piece of culture we take offense to, while ignoring other messages that offend other people. When this happens, you live in a world where The Dukes of Hazzard is preemptively pulled from Viacom-owned TV Land, because of the confederate flag is seen on a car, while MTV, also owned by Viacom, happily shows videos that some have complained glorify violence against women.

Perverted American Apparel ads and Indian Hitler ads aside, when the ad comes to hot button culture issues (abortion, Christianity, pro gun ads whatever) we'd do well to at least try to start by answering the question "Does this ad work," or try to understand the intention before we inject our personal opinion into it--if we have to at all. Remember, journalism is actually supposed to be objective. If we've passed the point of no return on that ideal, then at the very least I would prefer some modicum of nuance in the analysis.

In other words, understanding the broader social environment needs to go beyond those we agree with. If you're gonna write about Catholicism in the United States as that article did, at least know what the hell you are talking about to make a better point. To suggest Catholics have never been persecuted in this country as that author did is flat out stupid. We can always agree to disagree. But there is never an excuse for ignorance.

In the end, I think it's hilarious the advertising sites now have a weird mission statement to eviscerate advertising based not on the idea but the message. And the more successful they are, the more publicity they give to the ad. Far more than the authors think it deserves. And many of these advertising-hating sites are ad-supported. One must love the irony.

One must also love the irony that in the 80's America rallied against the PMRC because it symbolized the culture police, but now we are happily engaging in the same tactics to silence anyone who disagrees with us. The only difference is, the PMRC never told us we were standing on the wrong side of history by listening to music. They never called for a boycott of all music. They never wanted to ban music and silence anyone who liked it. Exactly what's going on today.

Interesting times indeed.

Dabitch's picture

Threadjack: "Thanks for your opinion piece, Kid Sleepy." -- Why do people do this? kidsleepy obviously spells it kidsleepy, why would you add a space and caps where there are none? People do this to my handle too.

Back on topic: Ad critiques are opinion pieces, for sure. I've happily mocked Jezebel's take on a playtex campaign and also criticized a Veet campaign but for a different reason than Jezebel did - I concentrate on the ad, the insight, and what the target market thinks. Meanwhile Jezebel find sexism in everything except their mirrors. When it comes to anti-gun ads, I have to be very diplomatic to say "this ad does not work" when it doesn't, lest I be accused of being pro-killing-schoolchildren-with-guns. And that's the problem, it's been going on for a while, you talk about the ad (and that craft) and some readers can not separate the advertising craft from the advertised product or message. People berate @adland on twitter constantly for showing ads for cars or whatever, as if we're endorsing the car, when we are so obviously not. Example, when we posted the Lehning homeopathic our new twitter policy became "don't respond on twitter". If anyone has some pressing matters to share about an ad posted here they're welcome to post it in the comments.

As for the ignorant piece in Adweek, that's exactly what it was. There's a reason Al Smith was only governor of New York. The anti-Catholic prejudice has been going on since the Reformation. I was frankly a little stunned that a Swede - the most agnostic country in the world with only 2% Catholics - would be more aware of this century long intolerance than someone who I assume is US-born and bred. But hey, it got over 1100 comments! not all of them useful to people working in Advertising perhaps, but yeay traffic.

Perhaps this began when the clickbaity style blogs started writing about ads, something I've always suspected they got paid for. It's "easy content" as most people will say they hate advertising, and sometimes the clickbaity blogs even troll brands online.

kidsleepy's picture

P.S Lest we put this conversation to bed too soon, I am willing to bet the Adweek "columnist," is unaware of world history in general. Because really, the only thing I have to say about shutting that conversation down is one word: Ireland.

Yeah-- Protestants were killing Catholics over there as recently as...I dunno, the 90's? As I said in my previous reply-- differing opinions are always welcome, provided they are thought out. Ignorance, however, will be treated accordingly.

Dabitch's picture

I shouldn't threadjack again, but that reminded me of something. One of the design briefs we were solving at my adschool in London was the issue with vending machines & waste bins in the London Underground, as bombs had famously been placed in waste bins, prompting the Underground to get rid of them. Also I was late to school at least twice due to bomb threats. On 18 Feb 1991, an IRA bomb exploded in a bin in Victoria Station, killing one person and injuring 38. It wasn't until 2011 that litter bins were finally allowed back near platforms. It was a very interesting brief, and I made a coffee vendingmachine that recycled the cups on-site, and only accepted (empty) cups as trash.