In my Senior Year of college I wanted to put my legal drinking age to good use, but not at the bars. Instead, I helped my friend raise money for the Selamta Project by collaborating on a party we coined as Kegger for the Kids (the name will make more sense if you check out the link, but I assure you all the money went to that important cause).
While mingling at the event I came across a person who mentioned they were majoring in psychology. I told them how I shared an equal enthusiasm for the subject because I really do find human behavior (motivations, effects, etc) interesting. However, our pleasant common ground quickly faded when I said I was in advertising; “You are a bunch of liars and frauds. I learn about psychology to help people–you only like psychology so you can force people to buy things they don’t want or need.” Was it something I said?
Honestly, my jaw dropped at the reaction. Whenever I mentioned my line of work it was usually followed by, “Cool, like making commercials and stuff?” or simply, “Oh, that’s neat.” And here I was being torn apart as if saying “advertising” was equivalent to me shoving 50 lit cigarettes into a newborn’s mouth.
I didn’t know what to say because I knew it in my heart to be wrong. Advertising can’t force anything–if that were the case, ad campaigns would be running unchanged since 1950 and I would own auto insurance from Geico, Allstate, Progressive, and Nationwide all without even owning a car. Didn’t that party-goer give themselves any mental credit? Do they think themselves, or the rest of the world, that easily manipulated? In fact, that isn’t even the right word because manipulation isn’t my idea of advertising. My idea of advertising is a message which persuades its recipient to complete an action (visit the website, try the free sample, talk about the product, buy the product; it depends on your campaign objectives). It’s not a new concept for anyone–we’ve all tried to be persuasive getting our friends to see a movie with us which they weren’t initially interested in, working our way out of a traffic ticket, or working our way into a college of choice.
Truth is the most powerful thing advertisers can use for persuasion. Finding that truth is what makes this job so challenging and so fun. What’s that special truth about the product that benefits the customer? What’s a special truth about the customer we can speak to? Sometimes it’s difficult because there’s even more than one truth to choose from.
Are there bad advertisers out there who don’t care about the consumer and are socially irresponsible with their messaging? Yes, but I’m not one of them and don’t ever plan to be. Simply put, if you’re as creative as your department title claims, you should always be able to find a worthwhile way to communicate while using the truth.
Some lazier creatives might complain, “but, the truth isn’t exciting.” Not exciting? We’re supposed to find the truth that is exciting, and I’ll admit sometimes it can be a little dry, but guess what? It’s our job to make the truth more provocative, interesting, and worth listening to. Creativity’s intent is not to bend the truth, but to bend people’s attention toward that truth. And now, here’s where I go on a list of why advertising rocks: Advertising has saved the GDP of islands. Advertising has helped elect the first Black President of the United States. Advertising has decreased rates of smoking and drunk driving, has made companies promote social responsibility towards AIDs, and made the water cleaner in Africa. And, if someone still calls me a liar or thinks ill of the industry I aspire to advance and advance in, that’s fine. After all, it’s my job to persuade them.