Blogs, this one included, are pervasive in the advertising industry. I think that it is a good sign – it points to a community of people with things to say and the urge to say them.

However, reading these blogs (including those by some of the sharpest minds in the industry), there seems to be a collective tick, a shared proclivity: the description of the advertising industry in sinister terms. Intelligent people refer to advertising in general as “the dark art” and to its practitioners as “the arch-persuaders”. The picture painted is of today’s agency workers as the Svengalian successors to the éminence grise. It implies a sense of self-loathing: very few people aspire to mastering a dark art.

It is a lazy conclusion to make. There are plenty of adverts both past and present which reflect the moral shortcomings of their creators: from Love’s Baby Soft to Protein World. The fact that adverts like these are given public platforms is an ongoing disappointment. However, this is not what is implied when advertising is referred to as a “dark art”. Instead, it is the suggestion that advertising cons susceptible people into making purchases; that it exerts some sort of exploitative mind control. This both grossly overestimates the potency of mass communications and grossly underestimates the intelligence of the public.

Advertising is not new. The public are sophisticated sufferers of an industry which produces frequently poor content. The predominant reaction to advertising is a wearied resignation. As Bob Levenson famously stated in Doyle Dane Bernbach’s DO THIS OR DIE advert, “We can’t fool any of the people any of the time”. The best advertising, far from tricking the people who read or watch it, communicates with people in a way which demonstrates the traits of the best human conversationalists: respect, honesty, intelligence and charm.



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