Editorial: We can't lose sight of the essence of advertising

Television has been holding a mirror up to advertising over the past couple of weeks, and the media has got its teeth deep into the state of the industry today.

How disappointed our papers and programmes seem to be that adland 2008 appears a more sober place - literally - than its equivalent in the 60s. Where have all the Don Drapers gone, they ask.

It's a fair question. The advertising industry is more focused on sensible professionalism now than it was back then. The lunches are less liquid, and certainly shorter. The tantrums are more restrained. The gratuitous displays of wealth are muted. Excess, generally, is less excessive.

And there's no doubt that the industry as portrayed in the BBC4 drama Mad Men is an overblown cliche. There are nuggets that resonate with anyone who was around at the time, but only nuggets (if it was really like that, there would be few survivors left to tell the tale).

The truth is that the industry as a whole has had to fight hard to underline its professional credentials in a world of procurement directors, unempowered marketing directors and intensely scrutinised marketing budgets. So it's right that the IPA and its current president, Moray MacLennan, have made it a prime objective to spotlight advertising's contribution to corporate and national economic health. And you can't do that without backing it up with a rigorous commitment to effectiveness and efficiency.

So, the current media obsession with adland's old excesses makes the industry squirm.

And yet, perhaps the business is in danger of going too far the other way, of trying too hard to be too serious. Advertising isn't accountancy. It's a vibrant, creative industry that should be full of colour and oddity and magic. Yes, all of that must be underpinned by a foundation of rigour, of research, of planning and robust insight. But that's not what makes advertising special. Who knows, the glamour and excess of Mad Men just might help put advertising back on the career agenda of the nation's bright young talent.

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