Very recently, I was in a library doing some research. On the table in front of me I had several books out with topics including branding, growth of media, social media, and advertising history. A young man perhaps in his early thirties walked by, stopped for a minute and said, “Are you some type of ad guy.”
I smiled, stood up, offered my hand and said, “Guilty.” We shook hands but he then asked me “don’t you feel guilty about it.” If you were expecting me to get upset, forget it. No one can spend decades in advertising without at some time being referred to either directly or subtly as a huckster, immoral/amoral, snake oil salesman, exploiter, and other names not fit to print. Even David Ogilvy said that Queen Elizabeth was not excited at his knighthood ceremony when she found out his occupation. So I simply let the young fellow fire a few verbal bullets.
But then he said something that did annoy me. He stated, “What I hate about advertising the most is that it has ruined the media”. Well, that was a bit much even for me. As he walked away, my mind began racing at the breathtaking ignorance of his statement.
Simply put, without advertising, there would be very little media as we know it in existence. Woodward and Bernstein were able to bring down the Nixon White House because Katharine Graham’s Washington Post was an enormous advertising cash cow and she could therefore afford to pay a few young reporters to track down a story over many months and pay travel expenses for the young team as well. Without advertising revenue, most media, as we know it, would go kaput pretty fast.
About 40 years ago, as a student, I came across an amazing book by David Potter. Written in 1954, it was out of print when I found it in a used bookstore. There is a passage which sums up my feelings beautifully. In PEOPLE AND PLENTY: ECONOMIC ABUNDANCE AND THE AMERICAN CHARACTER he writes: “Students of the radio and the mass circulation magazines frequently condemn advertising for its conspicuous role, as if it were a mere interloper in a separate, pre-existing, self-contained aesthetic world of actors, musicians, authors, and script-writers; they hardly recognize that advertising CREATED modern American radio and television, TRANSFORMED the modern newspaper, EVOKED the modern slick periodical, and remains the VITAL ESSENCE of each of them at the present time.”
Amazing! He published those words in 1954! Just the year before, 1953, we crossed the threshold where 50% of American households had television sets. Yet, in many ways, I could argue that no one has articulated the role of advertising in the media world better than Potter did in the 57 years since then. He understood the symbiotic relationship between advertising and virtually all forms of mass communication very clearly.
Think about today. Everyone talks (rightly) about Google being the game-changer in the communications world. But how can it afford to continually innovate or buy existing companies? It is pretty simple. Much of their projected $40 billion in revenue comes from advertising. Without advertising dollars, Google could never have been Google. And virtually every little website in existence is looking for ways to monetize via some form of advertising revenue.
So if you are ever accosted as I was this past week, let the naïve ill-informed bozo talk but do not let him raise your blood pressure. Without advertising, the media choices that we have in abundance here in the US and on the Web would simply not exist.
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