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Opinion and Insight

Has Advertising Really Lost Its Lustre?

MEC North America President Shenan Reed responds to a breakup letter to the advertising community

Has Advertising Really Lost Its Lustre?

Last week I came across an interesting op-ed in The Drum from Nadya Powell, co-founder of Utopia and Innovation Social. It was entitled “Dear John: a breakup letter to the advertising community” and it started something like this:

I’m at the point where I think I have to break up with advertising

I really don’t want to. I’ve really enjoyed what we had.

It was great and we used to have a really good time.

I like ideas. You liked ideas.

I like brands. You liked brands.

We liked to make stuff that made people laugh and feel things.

Make people dream.

And we could, because we used to see the world differently to anybody else.

But things have become difficult and you are no longer making sense to me.

It then went on to talk about advertising’s new love – Data. This got me thinking, has data really taken the ‘dreams’ out of advertising? I’m hoping I can convince Nadya and others out there otherwise. Here is my response, and please hear me out…

To my dear friend,

I'm so sorry that advertising and data made you feel that way. You deserve so much better. 

Truth be told advertising and data have been the best of friends for a very long time.

When things are good advertising will blossom with data by its side. But lately data seems to have gotten a bit of an ego and thinks it can run the world. 

Remember "Wind Beneath My Wings?" or (insert other hero/side kick examples here). 

Data, when helping advertising, is the wind beneath its wings. It's the stage hand that pulls the curtain so the star can be seen. It's the conductor to the already amazing orchestration. 

But lately, data seems to think it can be the support and the star, and it's up to us to help advertising realise that it is the star and help put data back in its place. 

Advertising used to create serendipitous moments for us. It used to surprise and delight us. Data is sadly causing it to focus only on what it already knows about us, and therefore it's lost its spark. 

You deserve to feel that spark again. 

Let's work together to make data understand and appreciate the important role it plays in giving us flight, but at the same time make sure we don't let it smother advertising's flame. 

We have always said that advertising is both artist and scientist. Let's teach data that it can contribute to the art without losing its science. It can light the consumer journey for us and help us see the path, but we need advertising’s creative vision to know how to make going through that journey exciting. 

From your friend who believes that while this relationship may not have worked out for you, advertising is not a lost cause. I would love your help restoring advertising to its former glory.

Yours truly,

Shenan Reed

President, North America at MEC