Lorna Burt
Jul 21, 2022

Are we forgetting who advertising is for?

When it’s good, when it’s thoughtful, thought through and purposeful, advertising is a public service.

Are we forgetting who advertising is for?

As a strategist, when I started in this industry I was told the most value I could add was as the "voice of the consumer in the room".

And that was never about recalling data from the latest brand tracker, or beating the creatives over the head with a carefully crafted insight, but remembering who the campaign needed to work for, in order to work at all.

Reminding the client and creative alike of the real person that matters most to our success. Remembering that this person, sitting on the sofa, reading a book to their kid, drinking a pint, doom scrolling on Twitter, is the one we need to notice us, and the one we need to make think, make laugh, make cry and make care.

Three things in the past couple of weeks made me wonder how quiet the "voice of the consumer" has become, and how loud some other voices are shouting.

How loud the lure of awards (and a shiny Lion) has become, and how actively we seek disruption and column inches, even at the risk of misleading or genuinely offending precisely the people we’re trying to engage, as with Ellie Goulding’s now banned social ads for alcoholic water – the existence of which is surely utterly without benefit to anyone – or Baga Chipz’ mention of her knockers in an ad for the Potato Smiley, a product aimed largely, if not exclusively, at children.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve questioned our motivations, or the impact we have working in this industry. Days when it feels like you’ve sold your soul, or have to defend your ethics, or had your work described as "brainwashing" (which has genuinely happened to me).

And there’s one thing that always got me through that, and that brought me back to advertising after the obligatory mid-career experiment with innovation. And that is that when it’s good, when it’s thoughtful, thought through and purposeful, advertising is a public service.

We live in a society where, in exchange for money (usually), people can access products and services that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. The products and services that do this, succeed, and those that don’t, die.

As an industry, our role is to help people find the right products or services in a big, busy world, and our clients pay us to make this introduction on their behalf.

Like a waiter that recommends that perfect dish from a long menu. Of course, unlike the waiter, no-one is asking for our recommendation, so we might need to wave our hands a little bit harder, or shout a little bit louder to grab attention.

But even this, if it’s funny or moving or interesting or thought-provoking, can be valuable in its own right.

And this job is important. There’s plenty of ways for people to spend their money and time, and our role is to make them aware of the options available.

But we stop playing that role when we forget who advertising is for – when we start making ads for ourselves, or clients, or awards.

When we stop making ads that help real people navigate a busy world, and make better choices for themselves.

And you never know, we might just end up with work that wins that award anyway.

At OPC we have to remind ourselves of this, a lot. We’re (pretty) new, and we work with clients that are either new themselves (scale-ups) or have new things to shout about.

Clients who believe deeply in their product, brand and the world they’ve built. The temptation to simply shout about these things without reference to the role they play for people, to talk about what they do rather than why anyone should care, is real.

We won’t always get it right, as an agency or an industry, but reminding ourselves of the service we provide to the public, and bringing their voices into the room as often as we can, will surely help.

Lorna Burt is strategy partner at Orange Panther Collective

Campaign UK

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