February 6, 2023

Digital Marketing Education

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Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman: why I’m no longer very interested in today’s advertising


Yesterday was so-called Blue Monday, the most misery-inducing day of the year according to some, and in the inbox was a rather distressing message from Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, who’s been fighting the good fight on a regular basis for years now.

Anyway Bob is hanging up his – typewriter maybe? Here’s an excerpt.

I think 2022 did me in. The big news in the advertising world was not about anything remotely interesting. It was about some of the world’s biggest assholes — Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Writing about advertising is one thing. Writing about creeps like that is quite another.

I’ve decided it’s time for me to hang this thing up. The ad business has passed me by and I’m no longer very interested. I read a report recently about Norman Lear, the great producer of TV comedies, who at his 100th birthday celebration said that two of the least appreciated words are “over” and “next.” I agree.

For a few years I was energized by the fight to end the corrupt and dangerous influence of online tracking. But I’ve said everything I have to say about that. The “business” of the ad business is nothing more than huge corporations muscling each other. And the “art” of advertising is — let’s be kind — uninspiring. We used to strive for new and stimulating ideas. Now we starting to turn our chores over to “machines.”

This leaves me with one unpleasant option. It’s the option that bloggers often default to — whining and self-pity. I have no use for that. Over the years, advertising has provided me with far more than I deserve or am entitled to.

This weekly thing is coming to an end. I’ll still do some writing and speaking about advertising, but the pressure to find interesting “ad things” to write about every week is no longer attractive. From time to time if I think I have something interesting to say, you’ll hear from me. But not regularly.

So he’s not going away entirely, which is good news. And his new book Adscam (How Online Advertising Gave Birth to One of History’s Greatest Frauds and Became a Threat to Democracy, to give it its full title – which rather speaks for itself) is available here.

The title is used with George Parker’s blessing. George, of course, is the author of Adscam/The Horror which, among its enduring delights, rehearses George’s disillusion with the world of Big Dumb Agencies and Big Dumb Holding Companies and, latterly, the all-encompassing world of data and social media – a crook’s charter. George, too, finds it hard to write much about today’s advertising, although he’s very nice to MAA (thanks George.)

So is the game up?

Advertising is a bigger factor in the world economy than ever thanks to search and the like but most of it isn’t advertising any more it’s direct marketing. That’s one reason it’s often so boring. The current rise of AI is yet another looming threat to what used to be called creativity.

The answer to our question might be yes. But we press on, as, surely will Bob and George.



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