This article written in 1992 by the author was presented to and commissioned by the industry magazine Creative Review. It was heralded as one of the most seminal and powerful articles laying out the potential for the future of the advertising and media industries. As with so much about these industries even then praise came with an agenda that sought self preservation over public need and good. They refused to publish it as it would have been as good as self suicide! Today some 27 years later its prescience, proscription and potential for root and branch change resonate as powerfully and effectively as it did then. I offer it now as I did then – towards the actionable courage to change, grow and become better beings towards a better world.
As confusion, job losses, financial and personal hardships bite into the industry is this the nemesis of advertising or could it herald the birth of a totally new communications industry for the coming century?
A copywriter friend described the other day how someone told him that advertising must be considered the black magic art of the 20th century (and they didn’t mean chocolates). Reflecting on that, I suppose when you see the content of greed, self-interest, envy, desire and lust for money, position and power, it seems a first class contender for the title. Redressing the balance by citing that which is true, decent, honest and legal in our business would still probably find the scales tilted in favour of the former. Not that we are an industry of crooks, more that we are the offspring of a conditioning covertly plied as the cornerstone upon which the pathways to success and happiness have been built.
Heresy I hear you cry.
But then how is it that our economic and social order is in such tatters? How is it that misery and suffering abound so much today? Something has gone drastically wrong within our “civilised” world for us to be in the state we find ourselves. It may be easy to blame politicians, governments and all sorts of external factors but I believe the time has come whereby we need to look a lot closer home, within ourselves, for the answers.
The green consciousness taking up the banner in so many areas is witness to the fact we are no longer able or willing to tolerate past mismanagement of the environment and ourselves. The awareness is dawning whereby no matter how technically advanced we may think we are, we are not going to save ourselves from our own ignorance and stupidity on this present trajectory, unless we create radical change.
The opportunity to redress the balance is emerging. Our industry has caught onto this as well, although it has often been interpreted merely as a useful USP (unique selling proposition) however it is encouraging both agencies and clients alike to rethink their approach in many areas. When the view of what is happening globally and our attitude to it is reduced to the level of the individual it is possible to see, if we are really honest, how our every thought, action and deed determines what happens to us. This gives us the key whereby we can begin to take control of our lives and what goes on within it.
From a global perspective this requires taking not only responsible action but also more importantly responsibility for that action. If understood on this level, lust for money, power, envy, greed and self-interest, have unsurprisingly been the qualities of our schooling leaving us in the sorry state we’re in today. A consumer society works well when the consumption and production are balanced by the needs of the society. When the greed is greater than that need the whole thing falls to chaos and we are at the mercy of things outside our control. It becomes clear within an industry able to communicate to so many, the responsibility and quality of that message is enormous. It is being able to recognise the potential going with that responsibility I believe the industry can play a most potent part in educating and showing people their true values and needs. Advertising is part of one of our greatest assets for expanding knowledge and wellbeing. Its existence and transmission through instant global communications, TV and press entering the living environment of millions makes its power to inform tremendous. So too can its quality be.
Could we see a time when advertising agencies become the conscience of society? The potential to influence through the media with the message is well proven, Marshall McLuhan told us that through his ‘The Medium is the Message’.
Agencies take on the role between producer and consumer, where they not only creatively communicate the proposition but also persuade clients the true selling pitch lies in the creation of products being ethical, caring, good for the total environment and beneficial to the consumers’ wellbeing on every level. The shift over the last few years in one particular area – that of ethical insurance has shown how people are really concerned as to how their money is invested. This growing awareness creates new and exciting business. This can only happen if individuals take on and accept their own responsibility towards developing their conscience. Being ethical and responsible no way hinders or prevents decent profits, yet when excessive profits, from specious and irresponsible players becomes the goal, ethics and responsibility go south.
The prevalent attitude over the last twenty years or so has been that if you clean up your money making act, by losing the cut and thrust of greed and self interest of market forces, you will not be able to make a profit or sustain a viable business model.
Fight dirty to win at the expense of anything or anyone is the attitude of those unable or unwilling to change.
It is true that in these hard times agencies are forced to cut expenses, salaries and even dump top creatives in order to maintain solvency. However these actions beg the question we have all been expecting too much for too long and the healthy option would be to cut expectations and lifestyles, allowing moderation and not self-interest to be the motivating force. It may be a hard pill to swallow in an industry thriving on inflated egos and hyped up image, but then these have been the very ingredients bringing us the situation we find ourselves in today.
Many of us find the present climate creates such significant changes it becomes difficult to not only cope but to even find reasons why all these things are happening. Only by taking control of our situation, which comes hand in hand with understanding the true reasons why things are so dysfunctional can we rebalance and redress the imbalance we have imposed on Natural order.
Gandhi’s immortal words that: “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed” hold a telling resonance.
Between producer and consumer the advertising industry carries a powerful position. With this position comes responsibility answering the demands of both client and consumer. Agencies have had to tread a difficult path. In times of hardship fearful clients and realities that arise from belt tightening across the industry have compromised the quality of the message.
The way out consists not only in observing financial restraints but also for agencies and clients alike to investigate all avenues on a deeper level. Some have begun this and are seeing a new way forward. We have arrived at a point where responsibility and integrity demand covering a much wider area. If the balance we observe so keenly in the natural world is to be of any lasting significance and mentorship, it needs to operate within our own personal environment. This demands a fundamental reappraisal of our attitude toward ourselves and to those around us.
The message pitched in advertising is one of Want, Want, Want. If this is reconstructed to what we Need, Need, Needthen moderation and balance must begin to be properly addressed.
It will mean manufacturers and suppliers become aware of and serve the real needs of the consumer. This, by extension breathes a whole new existence into the market research industry whose tainted, exploitative reputation will demand root and branch reappraisal. When manufacturers and clients put their expertise and energy into the emphasis on quality and care creating the product and service then balance, presently leaning heavily towards profit motivation can be shifted. Profit in any business is acceptable and essential. That it comes as reward for offering honest service and goods is far richer than if created merely as a means unto itself. The integrity with which goods are manufactured then is purchased along with the goods. The attitude going into creating anything be it car, washing machine, meat pie, cosmetic or piece of art definitively affects and infects the very nature of that product and its inherent relationship with the consumer.
A great idea turning into a much respected, timeless creation starts out as a clear, instinctive, pure and creative thought, one providing help, benefit, satisfaction and purpose. It works as much for dog food as it does for a Leonardo. The only barrier in believing so is our perception as to the value of any creative idea. All of us carry creativity within constantly manufacturing present reality with every conscious and unconscious thought and action. Most of the time oblivious of this truth, we reject and push creativity into the sole domain of the artist and innovator. We lose the intensity and ability for owning and utilising ourselves this potent power for change.
We lose sight of the fact we constantly create who we are. Through what we choose to do or not do, what we eat, buy, say, believe and think is just as much a creative process as anything else. If we refuse to own that reality and its concomitant responsibility, then we open ourselves to stuff happening to us from outside our control, unable to maintain the helm of our personal navigation and ability to guide our lives into the calmer waters of self-control. It takes a lot of will power alongside a healthy desire not to inflict suffering on our self, let alone others. To create new responses and outcomes to problems present times create around us takes brave and creative minds. Those pioneers need to question, know themselves before being in a position to help others. The lens of self awareness needs to offer sharp focus and transparency consistently to be of real value to each of us.
That very creative process is inherent within the industry. The art of persuasion is a recognised quality and oft-abused tool of the industry. When that persuasion emanates from a point of selfless caring for others’ well being and education and not from self-interest, the impetus for a paradigm shift in consciousness becomes possible and I dare say inevitable. It is a proven fact that being of service to others brings its own positive rewards. Often those rewards reveal themselves in a form we least expect yet they are never detrimental to the success of any operation.
We advertise the fact we live in the caring nineties with campaigns utilising words and images spelling out these ideas and propositions. Yet unless these qualities are reflected in the minds and actions of those creating them they become worthless.
The old, easy habit of saying one thing and doing another is not conducive to example. We flatter ourselves we inhabit a moral business yet is it any wonder superficially good and noble causes promoted with great campaigns are simultaneously created by those leading lifestyles that are excessive in the extreme. It is within these aspects of ourselves we are forced to question motivation. Only after radically altering our perception can we be in a position to show and help others.
Does this sound too much to ask?
Perhaps viewed from today’s cynicism, yes, but then no great campaign, no great idea has ever been created without it being ahead of its time, able to stand out as being truly great and innovative. We may all aspire to those annual pencils (the Ad Industry’s DADA awards – Ed) as honouring our creativity, but there could be in the coming century a greater writing implement created as our award – the rewriting of ourselves, who we are and how we have redesigned ourselves to become.
That would be true and magnificent creativity. Today’s advertising industry no longer will be considered the black magicians of the 20th century but transformed into the white magicians for the 21st century, disseminating greater consciousness, integrating empathy and encouraging a more critical, informed and healthily served population across the globe.
© Jonathan Trapman 1992
Jonathan L Trapman is an author, creative writer and photojournalist who has spent the better part of his 45 odd years in public life, learning from his personal experiences, sharing them, listening to others, whose lives have allowed him to open his own mind to a beauty, even within horror, that is transforming and empowering. His written work endeavors to convey, through true tales and fiction, impressions thus garnered. Dreams and Realities can be purchased (signed by the author if wanted) here.