Advertising is dead

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(I’ve always wanted to write a hyperbolic headline.)

Recently I met with a smart young woman from Lucideas (Lucid Ideas) to talk Art Direction, working/not working in Malaysia, and to sample one of the exquisite Garden Spritz’s at Ben’s (lemon, thyme, peach puree & soda). I hear what you’re about to ask, and no, it wasn’t an interview; rather an informal chat on what I was doing at the moment, and what Lucideas was doing at the moment.

One of things we talked about, topically, was advertising, where I more or less said “advertising is dead”. I didn’t actually say those exact words, and I kind of didn’t even mean them, but being inarticulate when actually talking to people, it probably sounded like I did.

So here’s what I actually meant:

I’ve come to the anecdotal conclusion that people are generally becoming hyper-aware of advertising and marketing. I think many people realise that sites and services like Facebook and Twitter and Gmail are slowly collecting information about us to sell to savvy marketing companies. (Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is still up for debate in my mind: is it not better for me that I get an advert about Lego, design, or tennis stuff happening in Kuala Lumpur than one about Mechano, project management, or beach volleyball stuff happening in Botswana?) So, increasingly, people are seeing through advertising campaigns and marketing deployments, and looking at the products and services really being offered.

In the casual meet-up, I put forward the example of the ad campaigns of most mobile phones, and that of the original iPhone: most mobile phone ads were about how the phone looked, what colours it came in, and how cool you would be when wielding one in public. In a stark and refreshing contrast, the original iPhone ads showed you the interface of the phone. Fullstop. It showed you how good the product actually was, rather than trying to douse a typically bad product (turd) with combustible faux-cool (polish).

What is the meaning of this growing resistance to advertising, and what does it mean for advertising’s future? Well, just imagine this simple scenario: companies take their advertising and marketing budgets and put them towards making their products or services better. Fark, I like the sound of that so much I’m gonna quote myself:

Companies take their advertising and marketing budgets and put them towards making their products or services better.

Imagine if that actually happened. We’d all benefit (well, everyone not working for an advertising agency). Products and services would become better overall. We’d get honest and transparent ‘post-advertising’ telling informing us about the product rather than obscuring it. And if the product or service is genuinely good, it’ll sell itself.

Fewer turds to polish (to tweak an age-old idiom).

People love a good product which helps them somehow or solves a problem they have. Sometimes people don’t even know they have a problem until a great solution appears. Something that makes life easier and more enjoyable. It’s the ideal scenario where everything is on a level playing field, and you decide what works for you and to whom you’ll give you hard-earned dollars.


But I didn’t quite explain it like that in the informal get-together. I probably mumbled a bit, went on a tangent or two, and crookedly — but politely — smiled. I hope the smart young woman understood what I was trying to say.

We finished our drinks, she invited my wife and I to their office Halloween party, and we parted ways. Then a few days ago, this article appears on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog.

*sigh* because I could’ve used some of the article’s phrasing making me sound a little more articulate, but also *yay* because I’m not the only one thinking this could happen!