My old friend Surrey Garland spoke at a recent event. He was addressing a varied group of client-side brand, marketing and comms people, giving hints and tips on how to get the most out of the creative process.
Some of the audience dealt mostly with digital, some with direct marketing, some with brand, some with advertising, a few with internal communications. In his intro, Surrey wanted to make one thing clear. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “What you do is all advertising. In my presentation, I shall use the word ‘advertising’ as shorthand for the totality of the ways that commercial organisations communicate with their target groups. The main disciplines and processes of advertising apply to all of it.”
I must say, these words had a near-Damascene effect on me. Until then, I suppose if I’m honest I’d become a bit embarrassed about my background in advertising. Hasn’t advertising become the dinosaur commununications discipline? Isn’t it the one that’s inextricably bogged down in what is now an out-of-date “push” model which views ‘communication’ as being to do with delivering one-way, outbound messages – when in fact these days we reject not only a) the whole idea of one-way outbound communications but also b) the whole idea of ‘messages’?
To be honest, I’d become so uncomfortable with my advertising background that I had started to avoid using the word. When asked about my background, I’d say I’d spent many years in “creative agencies,” or “working in brand, marketing and communications.”
Then, when Surrey spoke, I suddenly found myself embarrassed by my embarrassment, if you see what I mean. Of course it’s all advertising. Of course the basic discipline of advertising – figuring out what’s inside people’s heads, and figuring out how we can successfully change it in a way that benefits our clients – is just as relevant to any digital medium as it is to developing a 25×4 for a mid-market national paper. No question that there has been, and will continue to be, a colossal amount of executional innovation – but also, no question that beneath the sleek and modern bodywork the underpinnings of advertising are still working as well as they ever did.
This new perception has given me a bit of work to do, mainly in re-revising some of those revisionist descriptions of my past career. I’ve dealt with the conference biog, and the creds presentation, and I’ve made a strategic decision that I can’t be bothered to change the website again for the time being. Oh, hang on a minute, I wonder what it says on my LinkedIn?