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09 May, 2012 – 9 comments

i hate advertising

via the ever-wonderful swissmiss

I was in NY this week for Creative Week, speaking on a panel with other creatives, on the topic of the IDEA in advertising.

What began as a discussion on the primacy of ideas quickly (d)evolved into three of the four of us admitting we hate advertising.

I’ve been mulling that over ever since. Part of me feels vindicated. Part of me feels like a sad cliche.

“Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” – Robert Stephens

Full disclosure: I work for an advertising agency. Said agency has produced work that some people indeed love. We’ve shown what can be accomplished within the confines of an ad, and it’s nothing to scoff at, or belittle in any way. It’s good work that has proven to grow business.

Fuller disclosure: Words strung together that seem to suggest opinions here are my own and not those of my employer.

I grew up with a pervasive relationship with the internet and web technologies. I was hacking together digital products in my early teens and I helped build digital start-ups in my twenties. I consider myself to be a citizen of the web, above the state or country in which I was born.

And I am truly disappointed in how the advertising industry has largely approached the web. (I’m disappointed in publishers, too)

We’ve taken a technology that’s led to an explosion in participatory culture, and we’ve recreated the billboard and :30 spot.

We’ve earned consumer’s apathy. We’ve conditioned it through our own laziness and sheer lack of creativity.

Like anything, the top 1% of advertising is brilliant. It’s inspiring and effective.

Some call the other 99% landfill marketing. I consider it to be the biggest waste of money, creativity, and talent in the history of the world. Full stop.

I’m exhausted by the glut of garbage that passes as advertising. I’m frustrated by this industry and by the clients that ask for this work.

I’m also very aware that I probably sound like a pompous twit. And in the eyes of industry veterans, I probably sound like a miserable brat. I’m not sure our little bitch-fest about ads made for a compelling panel, either.

But yet. I feel a responsibility. As a member of a generation gifted with the revolution that is the web, I feel a duty to protect it. To make it better. And to stand in the way of those attempting to pollute it.

The world wasn’t born into existence with periodic pauses for commercial break. The web wasn’t either.

Part of this is personal. My father is a builder of buildings. He can point to skyscrapers that have his fingerprints.

My work is far more ephemeral. It provides no shelter for those it touches. It’s too often an empty calorie snack that isn’t even appetizing.

But I’m here in this industry because I know, with certainty, that our work can be more meaningful. It can be useful. It can impact people’s lives for the better. Brands can be more than the sum of their products. We can use the billions of dollars we wield every year with greater responsibility.

We’re at an inflection point. It’s been coming for more than a decade. It was born with the web.

Advertising, as we know it today, still has a place in the world. There are many occasions and opportunities for it to be incredibly effective. I’m just old enough to hope for a bloodless coup.

But the lion’s share of the work this industry is producing has to end.

It has to, or I fear that it will continue, that we’ll accept this great mediocrity and insult to the web (and to its citizens) as fait accompli.


  1. smallerdemon
    smallerdemon May 10, 2012 at 12:45 am .

    “We’ve earned consumer’s apathy. We’ve conditioned it through our own laziness and sheer lack of creativity.”

    Sadly, I think the online advertising industry have earned consumers’ ire more than their apathy. The result of that conditioning upon other are free crowd-sourced projects like AdBlock Plus that kill that 99% and let’s a site like (that’s rife with exactly the monstrosities you talk about) come through as a well designed, well laid out news site. Do I feel bad depriving SF Gate of ad revenue, yes, I do, but the bombast that they insist upon level upon the readers of their site is simply unviewable. AdBlock Plus is a necessity on a site like that. It hurts me on one hand to know that news sites are struggling to survive and that my failure to participate in their choice of advertising is one of the many things that is killing them. On the other hand, well, your post explains the other hand all too well. They aren’t trying anything else or asking for anything better. They’ll ride tradition straight to bankruptcy and death.

    Frankly, the sites I will give a passthrough via AdBlock Plus are those with individuals creating great content. Despite my despising the insipid ads at, I let them through on AdBlock because I love the content and know he’s one guy with a few friends putting that site together. The ads, though, are exactly what you put forth here. Some are so terrible as to be downright embarrassing to be seen visiting the site in a public place.

    I have a close relative struggling with his own career in advertising concerned with exactly these same questions you are asking yourself and your industry, and I’m not sure if he has made any headway or not. He’s done some great, fun work that I’ve loved, though, and some of it has at least made the old grindstone, boilerplate standards tolerably fun.

  2. Marie
    Marie May 14, 2012 at 5:46 am .

    I don’t know. It bothers me when people in advertising who hate advertising (that includes me, btw) desperately try to pretend there’re more meaning to be had, that advertising can, in some vast, epic but as yet un-demonstrated way ‘impact people’s lives for the better’. Just accept it for what it is: empty calories. Acceptance is the first barrier to revolution.

  3. Ramzi Yakob
    Ramzi Yakob May 14, 2012 at 5:49 am .

    I think the 99% statement isn’t a fair one to make. Here’s why.

    1. Your subjective view of other peoples’ creative efforts are… well… subjective. Whether or not those ads please you bears no relevance to their efficacy to produce business results. I’m not saying that all ads achieve strong business results, but by the same logic it should also stand true that not all ads, that you dislike, produce bad business results.

    2. Advertising is a creative industry – and just like any other creative industry (or arguably any industry?) there is a long tail of work. Look to TV, books, art, film and music for a similitude of work that is split by that which is generally accepted as great, and work that goes unnoticed by most (but not all). That (logically unsound) 99% of work which is rubbish could be as easily said about those other creative industries; it isn’t hard to find ‘rubbish’ music on Spotify for example and it isn’t hard to find ‘rubbish’ books available to buy. Just because a piece of advertising doesn’t find itself loved by a mainstream or even targeted audience, doesn’t mean that it isn’t appreciated by someone, somewhere. Or that it can be learned from, improved upon or mashed-up into other bad pieces of work to make something better.

    And finally, an ‘excuse’ for the industry. The talent pool is limited. Many creative persons who would flourish in advertising probably find themselves (if genuinely talented) in a creative industry where their name is attached to the work directly, rather than through an agency’s name. The number of people who are genuinely talented AND actually really want to work in advertising is probably quite limited.

    Now think about the demand for advertising – how many brands, businesses and penis growth companies have need of marketing services. It stands to reason that the best talent can only be stretched so far, and for the businesses who happen to not be represented by them, simply have to make do and find the best of what’s left.

  4. advert
    advert August 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm .

    i hate advertising so much it upsets me. i’m from ireland, spent a few years living in nyc, i disliked advertising before i lived in nyc but did i grow to hate it in good old america. i recall watching tv 1 night with a bunch of americans, commercial breaks every 5 mins, the stupidity level of the adds was mind numbing but to my amazement these guys looked forward to watching the commercials. what is it right now in advertising with the camera angles flashing lights, the camera can’t stay still for 1 second, creates excitment??? i honestly think it’s going to create a bunch of morons. advertising sucks so bad, i’m not trying to insult any1 in the business but i’d rather take a cheese grater to my balls than have anything to do with numbing the minds of the next generation. advertising was bugging me so much i decided to type i hate advertising into google and found this page. thanks for reading my little rant. now to go and unavoidably get hit by adverts

  5. Anti-vert
    Anti-vert December 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm .

    I believe I can offer a slightly differing view of web-based advertising from anything else mentioned by others here:

    Imagine walking down the street, seeing something mildly interesting in a shop window and pausing for a few seconds. Perhaps you even decide to go into the shop and ask a little about the item on display. You have a perfectly pleasant chat with the shop-keeper but ultimately decide that the item in question is not something that you wish to buy – either at this present time or ever at all. You leave the shop – allowing your mind to re-focus on whatever it was that you had been thinking about previously. But it’s not over.

    For the following month, the shop-keeper’s assistant follows you around everywhere you go…”Hey, I saw you looking at this the other day! Come on…Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!”…to work…”Hey Mr! I know you. Here’s that thing you were looking at the other day! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!”…and home again…”Come on! Buy it! Look here! Buy this! This thing here! Look! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!”…

    THAT is fundamentally where we are at with web-based advertising by this point, with every big social media website and search engine selling your consumer profile to anyone willing to pay for it. Every website you visit is littered – not only with the so called 99% of crappy ads (I’d say it’s probably more like 99.99999999999%) but actually more so with specifically targeted ads, just for you, simply because you showed a vague interest in some product or other 3 weeks ago – products that are in no way, shape or form related to the webpages they’re presented on. It would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating.

    The only difference between real-world advertising on the web and the annoying shop-keeper’s assistant in my analogy, is that I’d have kicked the living sh1t out of the assistant long before a month of harassment had elapsed. and that’s exactly what it is – harassment.

    In similar fashion to the previous post, I can add that I too only came across this website after typing “I hate advertising” into Google. Imagine my surprise when I found that the original post was written by someone who actually works in the industry…(and yes, I do realise the irony in continuing to use Google’s search engine despite my comments here).

    Ultimately, I really do HATE advertising. I know people need to earn a living somehow. I am aware of the reasons for the existence of ads in the first place – but I just think it’s all gone too far. I honestly don’t want to ever see another advert as long as I live. EVER. Sadly, I fear, this is wishful thinking.

  6. Reclame ← withouthego
    Reclame ← withouthego January 14, 2013 at 7:25 am .
  7. Scott
    Scott January 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm .

    As a fairly new creative to the Ad industry, I agree with this. And there are a few things I’ve noticed in my short time as a copywriter, especially one at the bottom of the totem pole doing a large amount of leg work.

    Everyone wants to do great work. But sometimes the system won’t allow us to. When I was in school, I used to tell people the reason I got into advertising was the same reason mentioned in the article, I hated advertising. I wanted to do better work. And as a bright-eyed, overly-optimistic student entering the workforce, I thought I actually would. But almost nothing I touch even has the potential to become such. At least in the places I’ve worked, the media buy is already determined by the time I get any sort of brief. So no matter what awesome, ground-breaking idea I might concoct, it won’t fit into the framework set forth by another team of media planners/buyers. Because that’s the way it’s always been done.

    So rather than waste time, I give the client what they asked for. I get it off my plate as quickly as possible in hopes of spending my time on the ‘next’ project that’s ‘sure to be different.’

    Sometimes I wonder if the best place for me to create great work isn’t in an agency at all. At least then, I’ll be able to have a say in the entire process should my idea call for something better.

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