Traditional advertising is becoming obsolete, “inexorably headed down the path of the blacksmith and typewriter businesses,” according to Andrew Essex, former CEO of creative ad agency Droga5, but the need to buy/sell things and to find out what’s new remains as strong as ever.
In his dandy, little, thought-provoking book, “The End of Advertising,” Essex rails against lazy, superfluous and stupid ads that bombard and mostly irritate people 24/7.
To him, ads must add value to people’s lives. Advertising “must compete with primary content, not secondary intrusion. It must become the thing, not the thing that sells things,” wrote Essex.
Marketers spend $200B a year for advertising in the US, and estimate that about half of that amount doesn’t work.
What if a good chuck of that money was used for infrastructure projects?
Essex views America’s roads, bridges, interstates, railroad stations and airports as the new whitespace for creative directors and advertising copywriters.
Consider the impending shutdown of New York City’s “L” subway line, the main artery in and out of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg hipster haven.
The New York Times predicted the 18-month shutdown of the L to fix damage from superstorm Sandy will be “among the largest disruption in transit system history.”
What if JPMorgan Chase launched a branded ferry service to carry the millennials of Williamsburg, a demographic much desired and extremely elusive to marketers?
Or if Hewlett Packard Enterprise renamed the crumbling Brooklyn Queens Expressway as the HPE and ran it from the cloud?
Ford Motor, which claims to be in the “mobility” business, could make its case by adopting NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build a 16-mile trolley line connecting Brooklyn with Queens.
And think of the buckets of wasted money that marketers shell out for their own ego-satisfying ads that run during Super Bowls. Re-hab housing, fix schools instead.
The infrastructure program would face plenty of pushback from governmental bureaucrats and advocacy groups.
But the current status quo isn’t working. “Why not applaud advertisers looking to add value to people’s lives rather than annoy them?” wrote Essex
He lauds Citibank for doing the right thing, bankrolling the Citi Bike bike-share program in NYC.
Every one of the 6,000 bikes painted blue with the bank’s signature Pantone 286C gradient is an ad for the parent company.
Citibank “coughed up a budget of $41M, rather than squandering that eight-figure investment on useless pollution, they built something additive that actually reduces our carbon footprint.
“When a corporate behemoth expands its communications strategy from traditional commercials (which, in all fairness, Citibank still makes) to providing bikes for six thousand New Yorkers to pedal across the Brooklyn Bridge, the time-space continuum has changed forever,” wrote Essex.
Marketers should hop on a Citi Bike and follow Citibank’s lead.