After an ‘utterly sh*t epoch’, where now for adland and all its contradictions?
A view from Harry Lang

After an ‘utterly sh*t epoch’, where now for adland and all its contradictions?

We’ve had not just one annus horribilis but two, back to back, so making personal and professional new year’s resolutions is tougher than usual.

After any normal year, new year’s resolutions can be comfortably generic. “Do Dry January”, “exercise more”, “meet friends every Friday”, “get that promotion”. However, we’re coming to the end of an incredibly abnormal year. A once in a lifetime (hopefully) period. 

Not just one annus horribilis. Two anni horribiles, back to back. 

An utterly shit epoch. 

So any resolution needs to a) be incredibly understanding of our collective circumstances and b) thermo-nuclear in its ambition to make up for such a turgid period of time.

In the advertising and marketing industries, such an ambition could be either personal or professional.

On the personal side, you may be considering joining "The Great Resignation”. You’ve seen enough, had your toes trodden on for the umpteenth time and seen your manager lay claim to one of your ideas once too often.

If this is the case, a big old dose of caution is advisable. Everyone has had those very same thoughts. It’s psychologically inevitable and, as with the housing market, when there’s too much stock available, then opportunities become more competitive and prices drop. Effectively, the risk of leaping with gay abandon from the reassuring warmth of the frying pan to the flaming fires of Hades are manifest.    

On the professional side, we’re all about purpose already, aren’t we? It’s all we ever read about in the pages of this very title. X brand supports Y cause through Z campaign. Except as far as KPIs go, it still feels like a tick-list exercise – a trend to be name-checked rather than a foundational principle to be built on. Using your professional skills to support a cause dear to your heart can be achieved both through the large clients or organisations you choose to work with but also, perhaps more pertinently, with the small charities, groups or individuals who would benefit hugely from an injection of your expertise after hours.  

Not only will they perform better but you’ll feel good about how your mind and work ethic is being deployed, too. Which is handy, because our industry doesn’t always feel like the most ethically comforting duvet to wrap yourself in.

This is because we work in a contradiction. 

Of course, after even a brief moment’s consideration, you know it, too. 

But we, and the brands we represent, can never admit that truth in public. The emperor’s new clothes would not just be invisible, they’d burst into flames. 

And the advertising industry lives in fear of this very combustibility.

So, we accept our responsibility as superior intellectual guardians of the public’s purchase decisions and create the trends, tides and times that reassure them about what it is that goes in their real or virtual baskets. 

Everyone lives in a happy state of (nearly) blind denial. 

There’s no fix for this, by the way. Most of my (and my fellow columnists') articles usually close with a pithy conclusion. Wise words outlining how it could be done better. How there’s a better way to devise strategy, to operate, to educate, to have purpose, to look after the customer, to generate the kind of success only disruptive tech brands can dream of.

Much of this is bollocks. Nobody really knows.

We work hard. We try our very best. We learn as we go. We jump on and off bandwagons because people we know and trust say they’re essential. We bullshit our CEOs and clients when the time comes to talk money. Some things work brilliantly, others don’t. Advertising and marketing campaigns usually have some kind of positive impact, no matter how shoddy the execution. 

Some campaigns win awards and don’t deliver against KPIs at all. 

Some boring campaigns keep businesses alive.

It’s a conundrum. An ever-changing, exciting, unnerving and scary one. 

Like Covid, negative things come out of the blue to turn your life on its head, and there is nothing – nothing – you can do about it. Apart from grit your teeth, shore up your own personal resolve and march on. 

Everything else in life, as in your career, is manageable if you put it in perspective. 

So, as far as 2022 resolutions go, try to do work you enjoy that makes you feel good, educate yourself whenever possible, aim high, work hard, listen, ask questions, have fun, be nice to people and make the creative and media industries a force for good, not evil.

If you do some of that, you can’t go far wrong.  

Harry Lang is a marketing consultant and recently published Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit, a user-friendly guidebook to the advertising, marketing, PR and media industries.