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Nightmare on Madison Avenue

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Andrew Grill tells us that the final paragraphs of the biography on David Ogilvy The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth Roman, sum things up:

Like all businesses, advertising is changing. This could be the most exciting time to be in advertising. Technology is creating new opportunities to reach consumers – and measure the benefits of spending.

What advertising delivers is ideas. … Ogilvy would not recognise much of the new landscape, but he would applaud the growth of disciplines that can be measured such as direct marketing.

Direct marketing?! That sounds more like a nightmare from Madison Avenue…

As I’ve been saying for a long time, mobile is a unique new channel, and it will take a while for all parts of the ecosystem to step up and use its full potential. I hope I am helping to drive this change in some small way.

….Mobile will probably become the most measurable type of direct marketing we will come across – if executed properly.

I think if David Ogilvy was alive today, he would have grasped the mobile advertising opportunity with both hands, given his direct marketing roots, and directed his staff to focus on the utility of the channel, rather than trying to squeeze 50 years of advertising norms onto a small screen.

It is odd to hear statements like this at the time when most people are learning to use technology to control their environment, gearing up to give a permanent finger to interruption and advertising. ‘Executed properly’ to me suggests beheaded, hung and quartered but from context I don’t think that’s what the author intended.

Advertising types look upon people like me with either splattering outrage: How dare I be against advertising! Or they try to talk me off the ledge, oily with condescention: How silly of me to think that advertising will not live through this inconvenient, unprofessional, messy individual empowerment…! Look at our vast budgets, offices, expense accounts. Oh wait, that seems to be drying up! Quick, what’s the next big idea?! Digital New Social Media here we come!!!

But I digress. Deep breath. Let’s try again.

There is advertising and there is Advertising. Advertising with small a is information about products and services by people who provide or use them. A tablet on an ancient road saying: get your stone wheel fixed here!, or by now a dying breed of a classfied ad in a paper, or on craiglist, or a twitter message ‘advertising’ my need for a restaurant in the neighbourhood, etc. This kind of ‘advertising’ is not produced by an agency, or even the company, it isn’t promoted through a campaign. It’s authentic and direct but neither of that is the point. It is not a message, it’s communication. And will ALWAYS be around in some format or another.


It differs from Advertising with capital A, which stands for the entire industry producing ‘content’ and shoving it down our throats, the supply chain of agencies, clients, brands. That is not set in stone. There is nothing inherent in the business models of Advertising industry. There have been several since the dawn of time, I am sure. One of them is statues. Yes, dear reader, statues…


Statues are symbols, imagery that is supposed to make us react, think and feel in a certain way about the subject of the statue or the owner. Similar to advertising or branding in fact. And indeed it used to be the way nations, powerful leaders and institutions advertised themselves and projected an image.

This form of advertising is extinct. It is art now. This would definitely have come as a shock to the whole generations of artists, sculptors, quarry owners, workshop apprentices, patrons and potentates. Surely a whole industry can’t disappear? Just watch the chisel of history chip entire supply chains away. A nice reminder that there is nothing intrinsically necessary in our business models, in the way we understand advertising today and that some of the ways that define Advertising may cease to exist in the same way statues, monuments and paintings are no longer used to ‘advertise’ the rich and mighty.

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2 Responses to “Nightmare on Madison Avenue”

  1. Perry de Havilland
    on Feb 5th, 2009
    @ 1:03 am

    mobile is a unique new channel, and it will take a while for all parts of the ecosystem to step up and use its full potential.

    Yes, ‘unique’ in the sense that no other form of push marketing can enrage me faster that some pestilent marketer texting or, even worse, calling my mobile!

    The only new developments for mobile direct marketing I want are tools to download to my phone to keep direct marketers the hell away from me… *that* is the true area of business opportunity: anti-direct marketing ‘jamming’ tools comparable to those I have on my PC that very effectively keep me completely free from unwanted advertisements.

  2. Andrew Grill
    on Feb 5th, 2009
    @ 7:50 am

    Adriana, glad you read my article and it prompted you to write this.

    I agree with you and I am in the “small a” camp re advertising – I WANT it to become information not an intrusion.

    This is where the power of the mobile comes in – if we are ale to choose what we want to receive (or not), and we get a clear benefit, and it is useful (things the mobile channel can uniquely provide) then it becomes information and not advertising.

    In turn, if we get this right, advertisers will focus energy on getting the right message to the right people – with less wastage by broadcasting to everyone. This = better and targeted and useful information to those that request it by something we also know as advertising.

    As you rightly say

    “There is advertising and there is Advertising. Advertising with small a is information about products and services by people who provide or use them.”

    We’re in full agreement.

    As for the comment above – yes this is one thing we marketers and advertisers must avoid.

    The consumer needs to be in control.

    See for a movement that is gaining momentum to address this and other issues.

    Good post


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