The Anti-Advertising Conference

Big Spaceship’s Michael Lebowitz makes a point at CR’s Click event. (Pic: Jon Cockley)
“Advertising has never given anyone anything except a headache. It’s something you do to get in people’s faces in a world where there is already far too much noise. I want to live in a post-advertising world.” Discuss…


Big Spaceship’s Michael Lebowitz makes a point at CR’s Click event. (Pic: Jon Cockley)

“Advertising has never given anyone anything except a headache. It’s something you do to get in people’s faces in a world where there is already far too much noise. I want to live in a post-advertising world.” Discuss…

Our Click conference threw up some pretty strong opinions on the current state of adland. Click is CR’s conference on digital advertising. Our first speaker was Big Spaceship‘s Michael Lebowitz, whose words are above. “We define our work as telling stories or starting conversations, advertising just talks at you,” he said. “We don’t do advertising.”

In the digital world, Lebowitz said, “you have to give to get”. In other words, you have to make it worthwhile for people to come and spend time with whatever it is you’re doing. That might be by providing a service or a tool that they find useful, or just by making them laugh or by similarly entertaining people, but, Lebowitz stressed, it has to do something other than just yell “buy this stuff”.

The self-flagellation continued with Tony Högqvist (above) of Perfect Fools in Stockholm. “We need to be more humble” – ad agencies? Humble? Err… OK…

“We’re trying to occupy people’s private spaces, so we need to treat them with respect,” he continued. Humble, respect – these are not words normally associated with the profession.

So how will this attitude manifest itself? Dare‘s Flo Heiss (above) suggested that agencies need to shift away from making advertising towards making things that can be advertised ie some useful or entertaining piece of content which people can be pointed towards.

All were agreed that it’s a very fluid, very messy time in what used to be a pretty straightforward business.


Graham Fink (far right) introduces (left to right) David Eriksson of Sweden’s North Kingdom, Jon Sharpe of Play and Richard Burdett of 4Creative

“I like this mess though,” said Click’s chair for the day, Graham Fink of M&C Saatchi. “I really don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I just make it up as I go along and trust my instincts.” Richard Burdett, MD of 4Creative, admitted that “being a client at the moment is a living hell.” Trying to organise all these different agencies – digital, traditional, branding, design studio – is “like herding cats. There are so many fractured and fractious relationships”. And the nature of what constitutes a “campaign’ has also changed: “It used to be that when we had a programme to promote we’d stick up a poster and that was the end of it. With digital, when you stick something up, that’s when your problems start…”

Driven by digital agencies, who have to operate in a completely different, two-way environment, there is a definite desire for reinvention among the ad community. In the magazine, we have written extensively about the new arenas that agencies are pushing into – events, exhibitions, products and so on. At Click, we heard a lot of discussion about the opportunities this messy world throws up. Not just to change the way advertising works but also to change perceptions of it.

But will it really happen? Can advertising make a decisive break away from manipulation toward a more honest, open and useful relationship with consumers? Can it stop “overfeeding our appetites” as Tim Mellors recently said?

We have a world in which economic growth is entirely dependent on us buying more and more things. Governments are telling us that we have to spend our way out of the recession. In order to tackle the economic crisis, yesterday UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling announced a cut in VAT in order to try to get people back to the high street. Never mind the state of the planet, just buy, buy buy. In such an atmosphere, can we really expect advertising to do anything other than rattle that old stick in Orwell’s swill bucket? And, given that the future of our economies seemingly depends on it, should we?

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