The irony is, the advertising industry knows everyone hates what they produce. This is why they keep looking for new ways to force people to stay tuned. —Simon Sinek
For people who dislike advertising, March 25 is an important day. It was on this day in 2013 that a French constitutional court judge found a group of people not guilty on a charge of “degradation,” that is, defacing property in a way that reduces its value. The persons charged had spray painted a group of billboards back in 2009, but the judge found that the actions were protected as free speech as a form of protest. From that judgement, a movement was born to eliminate the scourge of advertising from the face of the planet.
I get it. There are times when the sheer number of ads goes beyond annoying. Advertising dominates so much of our lives, especially considering that we spend such a great amount of our time involved with some form of media, whether it be social or print or digital. Everywhere we look, there is an ad staring right back at us. Blatant. Insulting. Inferring that our lives are somehow incomplete, or that we are bad at business, or that we do not care for our families if we do not buy these products. I understand: we’re all tired of seeing ads all over the place.
So, the folks at this organization in France called R.A.P. have taken it upon themselves to create and promote this thing called International Day of Action Against Advertising. Today. And while they are attempting to make this a global initiative, it seems a majority of the activity is coming from the UK, where Brandalism is located. This year, they’re specifically targeting creatives by placing display ads (irony noted) outside the headquarters of some of the UK’s largest advertising agencies. The charge they’re making to creatives is that their artistic energies are not being put to good use; that advertising is a waste of their talent.
They’re right, of course. Advertising is a waste of creative talent and all those ads are a blight on the landscape and do a disservice to society. I have absolutely no problem agreeing with the premise being made.
However, eradicating advertising as we know it only creates more problems and solves very little. An underlying objective of the whole anti-advertising campaign is that we could be putting our creative energies to use doing more important things such as addressing matters of environmentalism and human rights and poverty. Without advertising, however, we wouldn’t be nearly as involved, nor have as much information as to how we might participate in a solution to those problems. Take away all the ads for non-profits and NGO’s around the world and all the good work that is being done by those agencies comes to a screeching halt.
Obviously, the folks at Brandalism don’t mean all advertising is bad. After all, had it not been for their own advertising we probably wouldn’t have even been aware that this Day Against Advertising even exists. What they’re focusing on is the oppressive and permeating amount of advertising to which we are subjected. Everywhere we turn is another ad. And while we can deface or destroy some forms of outdoor and display advertising as an act of rebellion, one can’t do the same with all the mobile ads that account for somewhere close to 60% of the market across a great number of industries. Already, companies and agencies are putting less and less money toward print and display advertising in favor of digital because that’s where your attention already is.
The rub with digital and mobile advertising is that those ads are the economic engine fueling the Internet and everything that goes along with it. Take away the advertising, and Facebook and other social media folds up and shuts down within twelve months. All those apps that make everyone’s life more convenient go away if their developers are unable to make money off advertising. Even apps that are helpful, such as child monitoring apps and apps that remind us to take our medicine on time, depend on advertising to pay for that software.
While most creatives I know would rather spend their time creating art for the sake of art itself, those in advertising at least have the advantage of being in an industry where they can put those skills and talents to use. How many of our colleagues are doing less, working at more menial jobs where they don’t have the opportunity to create anything at all? I’m lucky that I get to spend my days taking pictures and writing. Sure, some of that goes to promoting products and fashion that I can’t afford, but I would rather be doing this than trying to get by waiting tables or some other soul-sucking day job.
On its website, the folks at Brandalism attempt to get creatives to jump ship. Abandon the advertising industry. Do something better. Unfortunately, for all the noble altruism, the movement is lacking a sense of direction. If we remove what they consider “oppressive” advertising, what replaces it for promotional communication? If creatives were to leave ad agencies in droves, what would those creatives do for income? Beg? Do something totally non-creative? I’m not seeing any great alternatives here.
The copy on the website gives a disturbing answer: “Where and how we take things from here, we’re not quite sure.”
That’s rather like saying, “Here, let’s all jump off this cliff into the darkness and hope that there are marshmallows and not jagged rocks at the bottom.”
I have no problem supporting a day without advertising. I think we need to more seriously engage in a conversation as to how we can legitimately promote products, services, and humanitarian causes in ways that are not annoying and offensive. I think we could dramatically reduce the number of billboards without detrimentally impacting the revenue stream of anyone other than ClearChannel. I have no problems with any of those goals or others that might be similar.
Asking people to quit their jobs without anything concrete to take their place is nothing short of irresponsible, however. Maybe next year you make sure you have all your own ducks in a row first, okay?