Ad Agencies and Violence in Advertising?

In today’s @BostonGlobe, Joan Wickersham makes a very good point about the extraordinary level of violence in today’s TV commercials. In “The Violence Pitch” she contrasts the simple non-violent ads created in 1968 by the folks on @MadMen_AMC with the actual commercials run in 2013 by companies that sponsor the program. Noting that the sponsors clearly think that mayhem sells, she asks why “less than a month after the Boston Marathon bombing attacks and the defeat of the gun bill in Congress, so many advertisers today think that in order to sell products it is necessary or desirable to show people punched, bludgeoned, kicked, shot, stabbed, held hostage, strangled, blown up, bloodied, and dead?”

The Ad Agencies Do It

Good question and this is the right time to ask it. But I would look for an answer from the creative teams at the ad agencies for those sponsors. They are the ones creating the ad concepts and selling violence in advertising to the sponsors. 

Mad Men, Don Draper, advertising

Don Draper Presenting Ad Concept

It’s the copywriters, the designers and the creative directors who are churning out this stuff.  I can just picture the conference room in which the creative team and the account manager convince the client that their concepts are ‘edgy” or “hip” or “pushing the envelope.”  (I’ve sat in that conference room many times and I’ve heard similar pitches.) Sure, the clients are the ones buying ads filled with mayhem, but they would probably buy something less offensive if the option was presented to them.

We won’t stop seeing these ads until the sponsors recoil from hip and edgy creative concepts that show mayhem, blood and death and reject them. When the advertising department of a consumer product says, “That’s sick and disgusting.  I don’t want it associated with my product,” it will be a victory not just for those companies but for all of us.

Cheap Thrills

The truth is that these ads may be edgy but it’s a cheap thrill and one that does not serve the product well. Edgy topics are where creative teams stop when they don’t want to push harder or go to the next step so they can really get creative.  Corporate ad managers who pay for these ads, who convince themselves the ads are good, and who stay with the agency that produces them, do not do any favors for themselves or their products.

violence, TV, gunsKeep in mind that they only way companies have of measuring success is if sales rise or fall when the ads run. Maybe we, the TV audience, should start Tweeting and Yelping and Facebooking to protest mayhem in advertising. A social media campaign just might get their attention. 

It’s not just the ads, or course—programming has fallen into the same abbatoir. Some of the ads Ms. Wickersham objects to are the promos for TV shows. But that’s an even bigger topic and it will be another post on another day.

One thought on “Ad Agencies and Violence in Advertising?

  1. is it just my grandfatherly perspective, or are the At&T ads with a man and a few little kids discussing more vs less, and fast vs slow some of the most amusing and best advertising on TV lately?

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