When I have the occasion to meet someone new, they’ll inevitably ask what I do for a living. Until Mad Men made advertising “glamorous” again, I was accustom to hearing something like, “Oh, so you deceive people for a living,” or “Oh, so you convince people to buy stuff they don’t need.” I am always quick to respond, “No… I help connect people in need with services or products they may or may not be aware of that will help make their lives or jobs easier.”
What happens next is usually some sort of quick retort about how that could possibly apply to candy or pop or McDonald’s, and I am equally as quick to reply that I specialize in b2b. (Apologies to my b2c comrades.)
Gallup conducts a poll every year, asking participants to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields. Consistently, advertising practitioners rank very low. The 2012 poll shows us at the bottom of the list, below lawyers, insurance salespeople, HMO managers and stockbrokers and above only two: members of Congress and car salespeople.
Really? Are we that bad?
That’s why, every once in a while, it’s nice to find some inspiration and validation. We experienced that earlier this week in a company meeting, where we watched a portion of Art & Copy in a company meeting. Art & Copy is a documentary about the advertising industry, where several famous industry veterans are interviewed. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.
One of the stories that stood out to me was about the Nike “Just Do It.” campaign. While the story of how the campaign came into being is told and interesting, what is more interesting is the campaign’s impact. We know the campaign itself has withstood the test of time, as “Just Do It,” is still the slogan some twenty-five years later. But campaign’s impact is greater than that. Liz Dolan, a former marketing chief at Nike, explains how those three words served as the push people needed to make a change, from getting off the couch to finally divorcing an abusive husband to achieving heroic rescues from burning buildings. This speaks to the point one of the veterans makes in the film … that companies can do more than sell product, if they are willing; they can change lives and change our culture.
Maybe you still aren’t convinced.
I have the opportunity to participate in focus groups across varied industries and one of my takeaways is always the same: I am thankful the participants care so deeply about what it is they do for a living. Since they care, I don’t have to.
So, I guess what I am saying is that it’s okay if you are one of the people who puts advertising practitioners below insurance salespeople. We’re going to go on believing that we can make a difference.