Advertising has gone too far, for too long. Ads consume our monthly data download allotments, line our highways, submerge our internet browsing, and delay us from watching videos. They bore us to death when they aren’t downright annoying. Andrew Essex, until recently a Madison Avenue kingpin, says worst of all, they are “crap”. Industry heads are beginning to agree, claiming that while 50% of advertising is wasted, 99.5% is garbage. Essex says it will self-destruct within five years. It is the end of advertising. (From his mouth to God’s ear!)
What led him to this intriguing rant is his rather late discovery of ad blocking apps - last year. This, he thinks now, is not just the ultimate game-changer, but the last nail in the coffin. Ad blocking is already used by an estimated 40% of the market. Go in a different direction, he says. Be useful instead of annoying. He expounds far too long on the example of Citibank, which sponsors New York City’s Citibike. Do good, and it will rub off on your company, is his message. This is hardly new advice, but the message is still controversial.
There are problems of course. Essex considers sponsoring a stadium (say, Smoothie King Center) retrograde, but sponsoring a television program (The Lucky Strike Hour) good. Presumably because culture is more important or rewarding than professional sports? He calls for more corporate sponsorships of infrastructure, since governments are broke. For example, he says Verizon should sponsor a free ferry while New York’s L train is down for renovation. So look for the Dunkin’ Donuts Smithsonian Institution and the Chick-fil-A Grand Central Station - coming soon.
He also argues against radical Direct To Consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical ads, seemingly because he had to explain Viagra to his nine year old daughter. But DTC was just as radical 150 years ago when the Kelloggs started promoting breakfast cereals directly, instead of having their retailers do it. Same with Procter & Gamble and their newfangled floating soap. The whole of advertising is based on DTC, because the consumer wallet is the target. It is expected by retail in exchange for shelf space. This rant is conflicted.
I very much like that Essex gets right to the issues. He puts off the history of advertising to the second half of the book. Sadly, most do it the other way around, with 50 pages of groundwork before anything new appears. On the other hand, The End of Advertising is extraordinarily repetitive, and Essex, annoyingly, admits it and continues anyway. It’s as grating as a repeating commercial. But that’s the world he comes from, even though he now calls himself recovering. Hope he’s cured soon, because he has interesting things to say.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.