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by Carl Cardinelli (@CarlCardinelli) A funny thing happened to me on the way to advertising. Advertising died.

Let’s all take a moment to mourn our once-bustling industry. A silent tribute, if you would, to the livelihood that, historically, we adorned with such pride and enthusiasm. Farewell, my old friend. We’ll always have Cannes.

A resounding bollocks

To that, my friends, a resounding bollocks. To fully understand my trouble with this sentiment, two stories of my personal experience come to mind.

First off, an anecdote. Rewind to 2003 — my first agency internship. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I arrived at; wait. Scrap that. I was still a student. No doubt I was red-eyed and hungover. If I had a tail, it was more likely flaccid and sad. Point is, I was excited. Chuffed. My first tangible taste of the ad world. Good times.

I arrived at the agency (which shall not be named) and met the ECD at the door. “Karl, I presume?” I know Carl and Karl sound the same, but I just knew he had it wrong. He didn’t give enough of a crap. Before I had a second to muscle up a seemingly professional response, he jumped back in. “Why the bloody hell would you want to get into this industry? It’s all gone to shit.”

I chuckled nervously. Obviously he was joking, right? Right?

He wasn’t.

“You should pretty much quit right now”

He then proceeded to dump me into the lap of his senior writer: a round, red-faced Afrikaans lady who, for all intents and purposes, we’ll call Debbie [The Devil] Downer. “Kan jy Afrikaans skryf?” she enquired with the sharp shrill of Lucifer himself. “Well, not really” I said — pants: now fully soiled. “Well it doesn’t bladdy matter now, does it. Unless you can write in fluent Xhosa, you should pretty much quit right now.”

Wait, what? Holy shit! I’ve just been made obsolete on my first day. This has got to be the shortest career (or lack thereof) in history. I’m not even mad. I’m impressed. Murphy, surely you jest?

That pretty much sums up my first three weeks in the industry. Upping my Solitaire skills while surrounded by three somber-looking creatives and eight empty desks. That particular agency, a heavy creative hitter in its day, closed its doors shortly thereafter. Fast-forward 12 years to my most-recent brush with the defamation of our ‘dying’ industry, this time in the form of an epitaph (of sorts). A 3000-word essay written by an ex ad exec featured on AdFreak, who sadly died of cancer at the age of 52. In short, he talks about the industry, the egos, the creative exhaustion and the work — and how it was all a waste of his life.

“I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody gives a shit.”

I give a shit

On the contrary, my dear deceased. I give a shit. I give a big shit. Why, on your deathbed, would you slander the livelihood that has obviously bought you some level of joy, reward, food on the table and funded your lifestyle for decades? Would you have deduced the same epiphanies if you were an accountant, or a fluffer? Unfortunately, I don’t have this answer. But I think so. I would love to have asked him.

The truth is, we’ve heard (and felt) this all before, right? Those sobering instances that slowly gnaw away at your sense of purpose, hoping to leave you a tattered shell of your past hungry, driven and enthused self. I can see the clichéd t-shirt now. “I spent a life in advertising, and all I got was this lousy aneurism. And a divorce. And a teenager named Grain.” The G is silent.

Particularly with reference to the past five years, marketing literature has been flooded with infallibly self-indulgent headlines referencing our deceased industry. Nay, drenched. However, these articles are usually cleverly succeeded with a final thought on the alternative and/or “future” of advertising — in which the writer often holds a stake.

Did anyone else get the memo? Last I checked, advertisers worldwide are set to spend a record US$600bn on marketing and communications this year alone. Move aside, Walt Disney, there’s a new, rich, dead guy in town, and he’s making it rain.

Great news

My dear friends, especially those of you still filled with belly-fire, I have great news:

This just in. Advertising is alive, well, and kicking like a drunk donkey.

 

That is not to say that our metaphorical landscape isn’t littered with cadavers. Pushing pure product is dead. Dishonesty is dead. Lying to consumers is dead. (VW never got the memo).

We advertisers garnered a bad rap from the 20th century. Up until about 10 years ago, we were being lobbied in with lawyers and real-estate agents. If you miss those days, sell cars. (Tip: not VWs.) I, for one, am glad that that era is over. Now forgive me if, for the next part, I seem a little indulgent.

Advertising’s not dead. There’s just a new guard. Just as clients took the power back from agencies in the ’80s and ’90s. Just as consumers took the power away from brands in the ’00s. There is an opportunity for agencies to take the power back into our hands, this time, with a higher purpose in mind.

We can change the world

Admittedly, I’m a romantic. I truly believe that advertising and design can change the world. There’s proof of it already. However, this reality, naturally, only unfolds should we respect this power that is potentially at our fingertips.

Now I’m not going to pretend to know what the future holds. Reading this (or anything else) will by no means ‘future-proof’ you, or the brands you serve. Buzzwords. Have you ever considered what the term ‘future-proof’ means? They’ll tell you that it’s a means of protecting yourself from becoming obsolete. Poppycock. Essentially, you’re proofing yourself against the future. In the immortal words of Samuel L — “English, Motherf****r, do you speak it?”

Telling yourself (and more detrimental, telling others, especially the young and/or impressionable) that advertising is dead is only an admittance of defeat. You’ve given up. Couldn’t hack it at its toughest. You’re refusing to accept that advertising has evolved, and is nothing like what it used to be.

Gone are the days of pushing product; we are almost two decades into building brand love. We are in what many consider to be the most-exciting age our industry has ever seen, one where anything’s possible, as long as we abide by one simple law. Tell. The. Truth. We don’t sell products. Our clients sell products. We sell ideas. Tiny artworks that, with any luck, will either inspire or motivate. Artworks which need to fulfill one of two destinies. Translate into brand love, or translate into a sale. Achieve neither of these two things, and you have surely failed. Your client’s R20m media spend? Poof.

If anyone should hire you or give you an award, it’s the media companies. They’re the ones getting rich off your Michael de Broglio ads.

Be proud of what you do

Indeed, calling what we do “artworks” seems to be hyper-arrogant and egotistical. My intent couldn’t be further from that. I’m just so fed up with the fact that we’re being ashamed to believe that what we do is “just a f*cking TV commercial”, or worse, in some way immoral or wrong. Most, if not all of us, know what goes into a TVC. A website with UX/UI that’s a million times sexier than any Kardashian bathtub selfie. A seemingly simple idea that ends up providing fresh water to a community.

There is real evil in this world, people. Be proud of what you do. Why shouldn’t you be?

Maybe I’m being naïve. If that’s the case, God forbid I lose my naivety. I, for one, will never forget why I got into this business. I have no choice but to grow old. I choose to never grow up. We are all but Peter Pans and, like Peter Pan, imagination is our tool. Just don’t get caught in tights around children. Or let sprinkles of powder lead you to believe that you can fly. We’ve come a long way since the ’80s.

So is advertising dead? My rebuttal comes in the form of a question: Is advertising invincible?

To quote Arthur Dent: “UNDOUBTEDLY, UNEQUIVICALLY, UNABASHEDLY, YES.”

 

Advertising is a zombie

If anything, advertising is a zombie.

Things tend to fall off now and then due to decay (change of the guard) but new appendages (innovative channels and platforms) are constantly being sewed on by mad scientists (visionaries).

So, a word of advice.

The next time someone tells you that “advertising is dead” or condescendingly asks “why the hell would you choose this industry?” just look at them and smile; for they are extinct. A cadaver. One less meatbox standing between you and greatness. Say “thanks, meatbox”, drop the mic and walk away. Increase speed, depending upon size of said meatbox.

Final thought

It is foretold that cockroaches will one day inhabit the Earth.

As long as there’s a need for Doom, there’s a need for us.

Just give a (big) shit about what you do.

 

Carl CardinelliCarl Cardinelli (@CarlCardinelli) began his career in branding and communications in 2003, spending the better part of six years establishing himself in London. Upon his return to South Africa in 2012, he was selected to lead Utopia, the “screw-the-line” agency based in Cape Town. When not heading up a team of unruly young admen, he can be found brewing his own beer, picking out a new pair of sneakers or travelling the globe in search of live music. Carl contributes the new monthly “The Adtagonist” column, in which he will be challenging perceptions of the advertising industry and its practices for the next generation of marketers, to MarkLives.com

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