School of Thought

Oh, do we have thoughts

Why We Hate Advertising

Well, maybe not hate. We just don’t like advertising.

Decades ago, infamous writers like John Steinbeck would hang their hats at the entryway of an old, repurposed firehouse—very close to where our office stands today. They’d hang out, arguing over the written word, in a salon that would become the backdrop for the rise of a cutthroat advertising era.

Leading “Ad Men,” like Howard Luck Gossage, understood what pulled our heart (and pocket) strings. Musing on the human condition, those pioneers codified the road to success for generations of aspiring advertisers to come.

Dubbed the “Socrates of San Francisco,” at one point Gossage quipped:

“Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”


There was heart in that. At the baseline of what it means to write an advertisement, they caught a glimpse of the human condition. After all, we’re marketing to people out here—and people are driven by emotion. So, what about all of this did we get wrong?

What is it about advertising that makes us flinch? Is it the endless commercials with smiling babies, or dogs running to front doors to greet their people? Is it the catchy jingles that get stuck in our heads and in our dreams?

Advertising has always been a series of ups and downs. Most people are trying to get a thought out and they just can’t get it right. About 3% of the population is trying to make some point that’s being lost on the rest of us.

Is it even funny? Is it personal enough to get us to care? Why should we care? After all, we’ve got smiling babies to go home to, dogs to greet us, and our own catchy jingles to make up in the shower.

In an insightful article on the state of marketing and "Why Marketing Sucks”, by Erika Chaudhary, it is noted:

“Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms constantly work on their algorithms and what was relevant last month it’s no longer relevant now.”

(Photo courtesy of  Burst )

(Photo courtesy of Burst)

We know it might seem tempting to reach for the latest version of Advertising for Dummies, but the truth of the matter is that advertising is a reflection of our own collective attitudes, interests and desires. If advertising isn’t changing with the times, it’s going to start feeling a lot more like advertising than it should.

We simply can’t be advertising like we were when Gossage was in his prime—although some very clever observations still hold true.

One thing is for sure: marketers spend far too much time trying to distance themselves from their audience to gain perspective. There is a disconnect between brands and the people they are trying to reach. Marketers often forget they are not just marketing to the masses, they are effectively marketing to themselves—other humans as unwittingly complex as the weather.

The human mind is full of wonder, and yes, still craves ingenuity as much as authenticity. There’s power in determining the state of change. Trends fade almost as quickly as they develop, and the only thing that’s consistent is inconsistency itself.

Advertising sucks because it progressively ignores this fact. The more time and energy marketers spend trying to understand the rate of change of their customers, as well as the larger society in which they operate, the better off they will be.

Hopefully, that will spare all of us from hearing one more catchy jingle we’d much rather forget!