OPINION: MILLS ON ... WINSTON FLETCHER’S LATEST BOOK

Does this ever happen to you? You’re at a social function chatting to some stranger. They ask you what you do, you explain and before you know it, they say: ’Wouldn’t Cornflakes be cheaper if Kellogg’s didn’t spend millions on ads?’ or, invariably in an aggressive tone of voice: ’Of course, all that advertising is wasted on me. It’s never made me buy anything.’

Does this ever happen to you? You’re at a social function chatting

to some stranger. They ask you what you do, you explain and before you

know it, they say: ’Wouldn’t Cornflakes be cheaper if Kellogg’s didn’t

spend millions on ads?’ or, invariably in an aggressive tone of voice:

’Of course, all that advertising is wasted on me. It’s never made me buy

anything.’



Do you a) look at your watch and walk away, b) find out what they do and

trash it, c) argue the toss, or d) offer to lend them a copy of Winston

Fletcher’s new book, Advertising Advertising, promising them that if

that doesn’t shut them up, nothing will?



Me, I always choose c) and advance with my opening gambit, pointing out

that 75 per cent of people in this country like advertising. If this

fails to impress, I attack on the flanks by reminding them that it pays

for or subsidises the media they consume. And if this isn’t enough I

offer to inspect the contents of their wardrobe, fridge or kitchen

cupboards where, I say, I know I will find evidence of the persuasive

power of brand advertising.



But no longer. In future I shall go straight to option d), whose central

theme is designed to show that advertising actually benefits the

consumer, and not just as a form of entertainment, visual or

otherwise.



As he almost always does, Fletcher has a point. Too often, when those of

us inside the business think about advertising, we think about it from

the narrower perspective of the media owner or the brand owner or even,

dare I say it, the agency. Hence, to the wider public, we can often

sound like apologists for something which, we suspect, we force on

consumers. Fletcher’s premise, however, is that advertising benefits

society as a whole - in other words, while it clearly works for

advertisers and media owners, its function as a medium of information

and instrument of choice also makes it invaluable to consumers - even if

they don’t think of it that way. Moreover, in the way that it enhances

our enjoyment of products (however illusory), it adds to human

pleasure.



For an industry that too often finds itself on the back foot, this book

is an important reminder of its role.



Fletcher’s book is not perfect, although it is not nearly as bad as

implied by a bitchy review in The Independent by Stephen Bayley (a man

who is increasingly the Loyd Grossman of design and advertising

punditry).



If advertising is good for us, why, as a Lowe Howard-Spink research

project shows, is the proportion of people who actively avoid ads

increasing?



This seems to be the central challenge the industry faces, yet Fletcher

doesn’t even acknowledge it.



Next, if advertising is good for consumers, we must assume that it also

works. Again, however, Fletcher neglects to address a central issue,

namely why clients increasingly question its efficacy.



Last, the book could have done with stricter editing. Fletcher is

allowed to wander down too many alleys which, while fun, make the book

twice as long as it need be.



Advertising Advertising is published by Profile Books, priced pounds

16.99.



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