Matt Williams: are these good enough reasons to make the doubters accept advertising?

I hate going to the dentist, but not for the reason everyone else seems to fear it. Drills, needles and anaesthetic I can take. What I find less palatable is the inevitable conversation that goes on every time I step foot in the door.

Dentist: “How was your day?”
Me: “Good thanks”
Dentist: “What is it that you do again?”
Me: “I work in advertising.”
Dentist: “Oh God, really? I hate advertising. It never works on me – in fact if anything the ads I do see make me less inclined to buy their products.”

If you work in the industry (and if you’re reading this then I’m assuming you do), then chances are you’ve been through this conversation before. Perhaps with a cab driver, a family member or that loudmouth stranger who always seems to talk to you in the pub.

You can formulate your response in a variety of ways. Over the last few years with my dentist, I think I’ve tried them all.

You can try reasoning – pointing to great campaigns from advertising past. Who can resist the charms of the Hamlet photo booth, the Water in Majorca or Aleksandr the Meerkat?

You can take the business approach – pointing to the effectiveness of campaigns. There are countless examples of how brilliant marketing has been proven to transform a company’s business.

You can talk about advertising as entertainment. 50 million people watched a three-minute filming encouraging people to stay safe on the metro in Melbourne. Even more than that watched women discuss their best and worst features in a film funded by Dove. Hell, last year 75 million people watched a test drive for a Volvo Truck.

You can talk about advertising for the public good – not just brilliant charity ads that the industry creates but examples like Bupa – whose marketing activity is really just a great way pf getting people fit – or Nike, whose products enhance the power of the brand but are desirable enough to be brilliant standalone items. More brands and agencies themselves are waking up to this. I personally love businesses like Smithery, whose strapline is ‘Make Things People Want > Make People Want Things’.

Of course you could really go on the offensive. Maybe try the old switch-around technique. Ask them: why did you buy your car? Yes I know Fords are good value but so are KIAs. Yes I’ve heard they are reliable too, but how was that thought really established? How did you really find out about that ‘great deal’? Why did you go for your model over so many other similar cars? Unless they’re a car bore (in which case you probably aren’t keen on prolonging the conversation with them anyway), then they always end up talking themselves into a corner, admitting that elements of the brand itself appeal to them. And who is it that has helped shape that brand?

Or you can simply try derision. Ah, isn’t it sweet that you think that advertising doesn’t affect you? But the fact you’re using that brand over that one, drive that car instead of that one, are wearing that shirt instead of another one shows me that you’re either wrong, or have far too much time on your hands and could be the most boring person in Britain.

Any of these arguments may be valid, but most appear to be too long-winded, smug or derogatory when said antagonist is about to shove a 3-inch needle into your gum…

Of course there are frustrations in the advertising industry. Of course you have to put up with a lot of guff, bluster and ego. Of course a lot of advertising is, well, bland.

But when you’re faced with the usual moans about the industry from an outsider you can not only get quite defensive, but realise that there’s actually rather a lot to love. Forget the doom-mongers and naysayers, and let’s have a bit of positivity. This really is a pretty great industry to be a part of. It’s still innovative, effective and a lot of fun to be in. That’s clear whether you’re talking to a new grad or the most senior of creatives – take it from somebody who sees Robin Wight bounding youthfully around the Engine building each week.

I just need to find a way of articulating all that to my dentist.

One Comment

  1. Matt
    The car question is a good one. Personally, I ask them if I can take a look in their fridge or store cupboards. Most of the products you will find there are advertised, and the advertising is usually the reason they buy them, even if they deny it.
    The same holds true for the contents of their bathroom cabinet, although I shy away from looking there.
    Maybe your dentist is jealous of all his peers who seem to be on TV at the moment, advertising Sensodyne, Colgate and so on.

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