Snide Advertising

An article in the February 18th AdAge.com newsletter, titled "Snide Advertising is Bad for Business and Society," decries the trend toward "sarcastic" and "malicious" advertising.

With examples such as the FedEx "Dean, I need you to continue not living up to your résumé" ad, which you might have seen, author Richard Rapaport shows how pervasive this trend is. "Take the culture's most facile minds, challenge them to pry cash from an increasingly tapped-out audience, and what do you get?" Rapaport asks. "Commercials built on sadism, on derision, on one-upsmanship—in a word, 'snide.'"

Rapaport is right. This trend is bad for business. So why does it happen?

First of all, let's not credit ad agency creatives with being "the culture's most facile minds." The advertising that major agencies practice is still based on the flawed notion that "brute force" wins the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. Snide is used because agency creatives (and their complicit clients) mistakenly believe that their goal is to "cut through the clutter." No, the goal is to create ads that blend with all other contacts the customer has with the company doing the advertising, in order to create a connection that encourages the customer to be more involved with that company and its products.

If these minds were so facile, they wouldn't miss, so completely, the point of what they are doing. Or, in a more cynical vein, we could say they know what they are doing, but are more interested in creating clever advertising than in helping their clients' businesses.

Advertising is a sick business. And it isn't just for the oft-mentioned reason that "consumers are using so many more media outlets—the Internet, hundreds of TV stations, thousands of publications."

It is because people just don't buy this way anymore. Customers—your customers—are scrutinizing, savvy, discerning, and self-reliant. They look beyond your promises, and consider every interaction with your company as a chance to evaluate you.

Snide advertising isn't only snide. It is anachronistic.