Has advertising become the product or are we just smoking our own fumes?

February 12, 2009

I'll have what she's having!

I'll have what she's having!

We are what we eat.

Not just food as the adage was intended, but media too. The books we read (or don’t read), the movies we watch, websites we bookmark, TV shows, news, music, our growing collection of “friends” on Facebook. And so on.

All of this is stuff we consume on a daily basis, every waking moment really.

And then there’s advertising. Not only do we consume it, we make it. But unlike bakers of bread, we don’t make ads to be consumed but rather to facilitate the consumption of something else. Or do we?

Many of my peers believe advertising is an end product. Sometimes I do too. A viral gets watched thousands of times it’s successful. A commercial film wins a creative prize it, too, is successful. We tend to tack on results, real or otherwise, as an afterthought, kind of like the sprig of parsley near the steak.

Alas, advertising wasn’t invented to be the steak. Barnum and Bailey understood this. The Greatest Show on Earth! Advertising was intended to be the sizzle; the promise a product or service might deliver.

Nobody goes to McDonalds and orders the clown. Or do they?

Things change. People now clamor for the sensational posters of the bearded lady. They may cost thousands of dollars at auction. The actual lady? Not so much. The propaganda for the circus became more enticing than the circus itself. The advent of graphic design and post modernism changed the world, and, needless to say, our business.

We makers of ads have gone through the looking glass. The Burger King Whopper is exactly the same sandwich but –and I use their own word- the “hoopla” created for it by Crispin Porter & Bogusky is even bigger. The disturbing “King” became a consumable property. Video games. Viral stunts. People started buying the clown!

That is the not-so-secret wish of every creative I know. And I think it might be coming true. The stuff we make became a product. I’ve heard the smartest, most famous people in our business say this.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Or am I just high?


7 Responses to “Has advertising become the product or are we just smoking our own fumes?”

  1. Chris said

    Without much thought I’d say the advertising can only become the product if the advertising is great. Does that make sense? The BK king mask sells well at halloween because the character is awesomely weird and creepy, Ronald McDonald: not a hot seller. Great work is great work. Great work is great ads. Great work is great extensions and even products. If Toyota releases Saved by Zero on iTunes, it’s time to reel it back in.

  2. Jason Fox said

    Truly great advertising is both a product that consumers want to consume on its own, and something that moves consumers to consume the advertised product. (I think my blood sugar is low, so I hope that sentence makes sense.) Bad things happen when creatives/agencies focus on the former while ignoring the latter. That’s when you have cool for the sake of cool and not the sake of selling.

    So you’re probably not high (at least not based on this evidence). And despite your Facebook status and my desire to make an easy joke, you’re not even full of it.

    This time.


  3. Good points, fellas…
    But it is interesting to note how recent the phenom of coveting advertising is. I believe it wasn’t until the modernists and other design centric folks began praising “graphic arts” that anyone gave two shits about pieces of advertising.
    Nobody framed liquor ads until someone deemed them “art.”
    I’m sure there are exceptions but still…

  4. Jason Fox said

    But how many people actually covet the advertising itself? I mean, not counting people such as ourselves? Does your creepy aunt have rooms full of all Coca-Cola signage because she loves the advertising value or because she loves Coke (and, perhaps, coke)?

    I do see your point, but I think phenomena like The King are still fairly rare.

    Now excuse me while I go play with my Pets.com puppet.

  5. An interesting moment happened about a decade ago when a thirteen-year-old Long Island girl insisted on a bat mitzvah “theme” that would portray her on a series of print ads from a famous campaign. So there she was–on the invitation, the party posters, and centerpieces, all proclaiming “Absolut Jessica.”

  6. SRP said

    “Absolut jessica” says it all…

  7. “The Flip!”
    McLuhan predicted it – kind of.
    He views media (and lots of other stuff) as “extensions,” (the car is an extension of your legs – media an extension of cognition).
    And, one of the things that can happen with an extension is “the flip.” The opposite happens!
    Now, instead of advertising getting us to consume – we just – in the main – consume advertising! Sweet, delicious, amusing, calorie-free bubbles that pop in the brain with little effect on our actual behavior – except the occasional twitch of the finger on the channel changer.

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