Mike Fromowitz
Sep 17, 2012

Everyone’s an advertising critic

“Everyone's a Critic” is a film community website (everyonesacritic.net). It began as an experiment utilizing a collaborative filtering algorithm to obtain film recommendations from people who ...

Everyone’s an advertising critic

“Everyone's a Critic” is a film community website (everyonesacritic.net). It began as an experiment utilizing a collaborative filtering algorithm to obtain film recommendations from people who share similar tastes in film. Over time, this recommendation system website has grown into an internet community of cinephiles, critics and reviewers.

Just like the movies, advertising has its critics too. We always have. The only thing talked about more than the movies today are the commercials that go to air. It seems that most critics can be found online now, many of them representing websites and blogs they have named after themselves. We are seeing the pervasiveness of social media critics in every facet of our business, be it creative, financial, strategic or corporate. It’s hard to argue that social media hasn’t changed forever how we interact, connect and share our comments and criticisms online. The tidal wave of bloggers, tweeters and social media critics has ballooned.

Lost in the Internet’s democracy

It’s no secret that the internet has eroded the authority of traditional critics and substituted Everyman opinions on blogs, websites, even on Facebook and Twitter, where one's colleagues, peers, friends and neighbours get to sound off. Thus the Web can be a mean-spirited place. It's sad, but the thoughtful and sometimes witty critiques we use to read in traditional media seem to have gotten lost in the internet democracy of commentary and blogging.

As the Internet began to eclipse newspapers and magazines, the unthinkable happened: the better-known advertising journalists and critics were being laid off. Many found new life online, becoming part of a wider conversation in cyberspace. But it appears that their influence has lessened.

Some would argue that it has been good for the business, that the reviews and criticisms of TV commercials, print ads and award shows are as good as they ever have been. But I don’t think so. I’m finding a lot of mindless, confused, and angry chatter online. Like everything on the Internet, there are few filters, and it will take years to sort out the voices that really matter from the noise—a job that we use to rely on newspapers and the trade magazines to do, even though they were imperfect, slow moving, clubbish, and often arrogant.

Some call this a meritocracy

So while Social Media’s bloggers and website critics may have a voice (some call this a meritocracy) it does dilute the authority of critics in the traditional media. The real threat as I see it, is not blogging but social networking with its sheer quantity of opinion—Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Tumblr, WordPress, Digg, Yelp and dozens of others.

The point isn't that the traditional critics of advertising are better at their discipline than those on the Internet. The point is that authority has migrated from professional critics with some degree of knowledge about marketing and advertising, to ordinary folks with none at all, and there is nothing we can do about it. They have seen their monopoly usurped by what amounts to a vast technological word-of-mouth of hundreds of millions of people.

Perhaps I'm nostalgic for the days when criticism of ads was written like an art, with whit and charm and a real understanding of the ad world and the players in it.  Most blogs about advertising and marketing offer ceaseless narrative with little insight. A good critic, however, assesses the ad industry in a way that's illuminative. I wish the critics of today would write a little less and think a little more.

In the advertising world, ad critics are either reviled or adored. That depends on how positively or negatively they reviewed your latest campaign. If you are criticized favorably, you are positive about the criticism and its fun, but it hurts to be criticized negatively. "Every art form needs a critic,” says Paul Cappelli, CEO of The Adstore.”Advertising is the art of selling, and if you don't have people who criticize that art, we become an industry that just puts out catalogues."

Critics without the credentials

Everyone loves or hates Apple ads, right? Apple's advertising campaigns have never been without their controversy. Who could forget the Mac vs. PC ads that made Justin Long and John Hodgman famous? Every one of those ads had its strengths and weaknesses, and they were all subject to heated debate over whether Apple's communication strategy was the right one to pursue.

When Apple rolled out its latest Apple Genius campaign during the 2012 Summer Olympics, the ads seemed to draw more ire than usual—especially from the Mac "faithful". I can’t blame the critics in this case really. The commercials were pretty bad. The TV spots attempted to highlight the role of the Apple Genius in people's lives, and how Mac expertise can help people out of problematic situations.

So whilst I can appreciate where Apple was trying to go with these ads, in this sense, I have to agree with the critics. The ads were a bore and made Apple seem a little too smug for comfort.

Ken Segall, the former creative director who worked with Apple and Steve Jobs, wrote a scathing critique of the Apple Genius ads referring to them as a particularly low point in Apple's history. He pointed out that Apple was perfectly capable of appealing to both loyal and new customers without putting off either group. "Apple’s momentum is fueled by the enthusiasm of its core customers. The last thing it wants is to win new customers at the cost of looking ridiculous to its enthusiastic supporters," he said.

I find Segall’s criticism valid. He is, after all, a creative person who writes and creates ads. Most critics theses days have never written an ad or created one in all their entire lives. What gives them the credentials to criticize an ad campaign?

Everyone’s an ad critic

The general public likes to talk about the ads they see,  and they like to criticize them too. But they are not professional ad critics. They don’t judge the spots on the value of being effective to the target audience; they judge the spots as if they were reviewing a movie. Did they laugh? Did they cry? Were they moved?

I remember a time when the only true critics of advertising were people who had first-hand experience with it or were professionals who got paid to publish formal reviews.  They’d call you up on the phone for an interview, or ask your opinion on a campaign. They’d do the same with others in the business to get the facts and to seek valid, professional opinions.

Less than twenty years ago, I think there was a bit of a cache to the job of journalist and critics covering the advertising scene. It was an era before everyone was a critic, and their voices seemed to matter more. Traditionally, a critic's power lay in his authoritative opinion delivered via an equally authoritative medium. But the rise of the Internet and the growth of social media, where everyone is a critic, changed the balance.

Social Media criticism—the hot new trend

Social Media has become the primary tool for critiquing the ad industry – regardless of whether the critic has personal experience with it or not.  The critic, who was once the arbiter of good and bad ad campaigns, has become a mere citizen in the blogosphere. The disparate opinions of an engaged online community have displaced the authority of the experts. Blogging requires no qualifications of course. If you see a commercial somewhere, a billboard or print ad, you can write about it almost instantly. While everyone has the right to an opinion, few have the sense or sensibility not to express it.

There is some good here: we have all become more confident in defining our own tastes, and crowd-sourced recommendations can yield some overlooked gems in unexpected places. But who judges these many new judges?

Everyone is entitled to an opinion

We must accept that now we live in a new age in which everyone is not only entitled to his or her opinion, but is encouraged to share it. In effect, everyone has an opportunity to become a critic. We’ve become a world of critics looking for a world of readers. We’ve opened the door to a host of new critics who can say what they want to say while remaining anonymous. Good or bad, the hoards are at the gates.

Mike Fromowitz



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