Has the ad industry become embarrassed by selling?

A new book by Steve Harrison accuses the ad industry of being so obsessed by purpose that it has forgotten its core role: to sell stuff. Patrick Burgoyne examines his claims

The ad industry has become so dominantly left-leaning, so ‘woke’, so obsessed with progressive causes and ‘saving the world’ that it has abandoned its primary purpose – to drive business growth. In doing so, it has become more and more out of touch with the mainstream, which doesn’t share the industry’s liberal agenda, nor its new-found concern for the environment.

This is the central contention of Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell, a plea for advertising to “rediscover its commercial purpose”, by former OgilvyOne and Wunderman creative chief Steve Harrison. In this entertaining polemic, Harrison takes aim at what he sees as an industry that is increasingly embarrassed to be associated with “stoking capitalism’s engine of growth”.

Instead, he says, advertising has decided that it’s on a “mission to save the planet, and alert its inhabitants to the evils of climate change, privilege, racism…. This is what advertising does now.” And it’s increasingly intolerant of anyone who isn’t on board with that. Advertising, it seems, has become a new front in the culture wars.