The Anti-advertising conference

Patrick Burgoyne reports from CR’s Click conference

“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 on digital advertising threw up some pretty strong opinions on the current state of adland. 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 of Perfect Fools. “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 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.

“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.” Ed Elworthy of Nike 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”. We heard of fractured and fractious relationships. And 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,” said Richard Burdett, MD of 4 Creative. “With digital, when you stick something up, that’s when your problems start…” 

Driven by digital agencies, who operate in a two-way environment, there is a definite desire for reinvention among the ad community. 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. 

CR will be staging three Click conferences in 2009, one in Singapore, one in New York and one in London. Details here


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