The purpose of advertising
A view from Maisie McCabe

The purpose of advertising

The industry talks a lot about purpose but just where does it start and end?

Why do you get up in the morning? What are you thinking about as you make that short journey to your kitchen table or ramshackle bedroom desk? After you’ve rushed your toddler to nursery, smashed out an online gym class, cried into your porridge or plonked teenagers in front of streamed lessons/Fortnite marathons, that is.

The advertising industry talks a lot about purpose. But often the discussion involves work that highlights the danger cars pose to cyclists, iron deficiency in Cambodia or the volume of rubbish in the oceans. All laudable goals. Even more so when the work is genuinely conceived in the agency and does the job it claims to. But what about generating revenue growth for businesses, keeping their staff in their jobs and their families provided for?

In Tess Alps’ enjoyable romp through her life’s work in our February issue (in print from today and on the website next Monday), she describes how for the first nine years of her professional life, as a self-described idealistic hippy, she wasn’t really sure she approved of advertising. A transformational ad changed all that, demonstrating the power and craft involved and accelerating her through an illustrious career. In our new slot – My Campaign – leading creatives will recount the experience of creating that sort of transformational work. I hope it inspires you to do more. This month's will be online next Tuesday.

As the country, hopefully, makes its slow way out of the catastrophic Covid pandemic and grapples with the new Brexit trading arrangements, the advertising industry can have a powerful, positive role. It would be good to remember, as the author and creative director Steve Harrison put it to me this week, “every time someone buys a product in your ad someone else gets paid”.

That’s not to say we let up on important social issues. After the year we have all had, they are more important than ever. But we should not forget there is nobility in encouraging people to buy great products at a decent price. The culture secretary Oliver Dowden is with us on this – he said in a piece for Campaign at the end of January that advertising will be “absolutely pivotal in rebuilding our economy”.

He continued: “As we regroup and begin to recover, advertising will be there every step of the way – heralding the return of all the things that make life worth living.”

And that’s worth getting out of bed for.

Maisie McCabe is the UK editor of Campaign

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