And yet for all the self-doubt with which the ad business is wracked, it has some astonishing achievements to its name.
Bottled water, for example. How, in God's name, can it be that we are to pay 60-70p for stuff that we can get for less than a penny just by turning on a tap? If that isn't an ad for the power of advertising, I don't know what is. Or is it perhaps that as a society we are more gullible than ever before? Well, Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell wouldn't agree.
What's more, the market sustains a dozen or so brands (Perrier, Evian, Buxton, Hildon Park, Highland Spring, Volvic, San Pellegrino and Malvern, to name but a few), all of which appear to be flourishing.
Again, what a triumph for the advertising profession when, let's face it, no-one can articulate the difference between any of them. Even if they could, are those differences in any way significant? You try explaining them to an African villager desperate for access to any kind of water, or indeed to the My Fair Lady star Anthony Andrews, recently reported as suffering from mineral water intoxication.
The interesting thing about mineral water advertising is that it seems to have moved away from offering hard, rational reasons to buy usually rooted in their source - such as purity or a particular combination of minerals - to softer, more intangible (spurious even) values.
I suppose that's the inevitable consequence of selling the ultimate in commodity items in a now mature market. Evian is the latest to grab this ground, with its ad featuring various people, including a 60-year-old businessman, lip-synching to the classic dad-rock number, We Will Rock You. The message: Evian keeps you young at heart. But so do sex, Sanatogen and driving a fast car or, in my case, not double-faulting at 30-40 in the deciding game.
So what about Vittel? Well, one of the interesting things about it is that it doesn't really market its provenance. Most of the other mineral waters are expressly from somewhere and, even if they don't do it overtly, play on whatever we might associate with that place - middle England for Malvern, gritty Peak District purity for Buxton, Franco-Alpine chic for Evian and so on. But Vittel?
Is it a real place? It sounds like a made-up Euro word, an impression given credence by the Franglais "reVittelise" slogan in this new (and last, since the business is moving to Ogilvy & Mather) ad by Publicis.
Like Evian, Vittel appears to be moving away from the rational sell to the emotive. A weary-looking woman walks into a lift as she leaves work. As she sips from her bottle of Vittel, the lift turns into a shower. She emerges wet, refreshed and reinvigorated and tosses the bottle to a man waiting to get in. He looks intrigued, which could be because he's wondering why the lift's dry and she's wet, or more likely because he is tantalised by the hint of a nipple under her wet and clinging dress (talking of things that keep you young ...).
Not that I'm influenced by the nipple, but it's quite fun. At least it beats getting in the lift with the boss or the office bore. My problem is basing the message on refreshment. Since that is a quality unique to neither mineral water (think Coke, Heineken and coffee) or Vittel, I get the feeling it and Publicis have run out of ideas. Clearly it is hoping for an injection of "vittelity" from Ogilvy.
Dead cert for a Pencil? You can't turn water into wine.
File under ... D for dripping.
What would the chairman's wife say? "But how chic to hire an agency