Why the Death of the Ad Critic is a Bad Thing

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Bob Garfield? Quit. Barbara Lippert? Fired. Lewis Lazare? Fired. Stuart Elliott? Oddly, the last major ad critic standing. What's going on here? Is there no value seen in advertising commentary? No credence given to intelligent analysis of what works and what doesn't in this business? Or have all the ad blogs and the proliferation of social media rendered the ad critic unnecessary?

According to Bob Garfield, the reason behind the exodus of ad critics, well, at least his, may be quite simple. It's pointless. When Bob left Ad Age, one of the reasons he cited for leaving was frustration. Another was disgust. He wrote, "...despite the best of all forums for evaluating ad strategy and execution, my core principles espoused over a quarter century (and codified in my book 'And Now a Few Words from Me') seem to have had little or no effect on the practice of the craft. I continue to be awed and humbled by the best of what the industry produces. But I also think billions of client dollars every year are being squandered by narcissists, con men, naifs and a number of blithering morons."

Well, he's certainly right about a number of things here. Chiefly, his last sentence which calls out the industry for being a collection of idiotic morons who refuse to learn from their mistakes. But is it really that bad? Are people in the industry really that moronic?

Yes and no. I've worked for the best and the worst over the course of my career. I've worked for idiots, one of which, who, in 2003, said, "The internet isn't there yet." I've worked with brilliant creative minds who miraculously conjure amazement out of the most mundane product offering. I've worked with primadona account executives who thought the hotter they dressed, the higher the heels they wore and the more buzzword bullshit they spewed, the more the client would like them.

I've worked with clients who are so smart it make me wonder why the hell they hired an ad agency in the first place. And I've also worked for clients who turned out to be crooks and stole millions from their companies. And ended up going to jail.

The advertising industry is like the rest of the world. There's good people and there's bad. Truly talented and waste-of-space blowhards. Creative geniuses and pompous hacks. And that's a very good thing. Why?

You've heard the old adage there's no right without wrong. No good without bad. No positive without negative. All of which leads to the notion that if we don't make mistakes, we'll never learn how to improve our chosen craft. We all gleefully experience schadenfreude at the missteps of others but we also (or at least should) learn from the unfortunate mistakes of others. And those of our own.

Without ad critics who call out the good and the bad in the industry, how will anyone learn from the work of others and improve their own craft? And, yes, I've heard of the internet and YouTube and the three billion other places people can consume creative content. But much of the commentary in those spaces comes from two sources. First, the people who created the work or "plants" who can't help but fill comment after comment with glowing remarks about how amazing the work is. Second, everyone else who, by nature, has to hate the work because they didn't create it.

Call this my pompous viewpoint but I truly believe there is a need for critics who at least attempt to be impartial when it comes to commenting on the work this industry produces. We need the ad critic. The industry needs to be kept on its toes. It needs to be admonished and given a pat on the back. It needs someone to call out what works and what doesn't.

What are your thoughts? Is ad critique a pointless endeavor or an integral and necessary part of the ad industry?

by Steve Hall    Mar-31-11   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion   

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