About Advertise

The Kiddies Table of Big Business

by Paul Kinsey / Illustration by Rico / 29.11.2011

Advertising is not a grown-up profession. It’s an immature industry that tries to hide it’s weaknesses by being condescending, dressed in Converse Sneakers and a suit.


It gets worse each year. Scam work wins awards and the fibre of professionalism crumbles. We are almost immune by now to cheats and their alluring cheat-advertising. Creative work only appreciated by those who created it. And fashion victims. A good distribution plan can sell more product than a R3 million TV advert. Agencies try to convince clients what they need is an “Epic Campaign”, inspired by overseas work, that will win awards. The agency will tell the client this is good for their brand. Award winning brands are better. Right? When really it’s about burnishing the lustre of the agency. It’s unscrupulous and vainglorious and its killing the industry.

Award-winning advertising can fail. There I said it. The market may shrug at it. More often that not, it does. Similar results would have been achieved with a strategy that cost less than a third of the “fully integrated campaign that changed the way consumers interact with advertising”. This happens often. Not everything needs to be designed by Rem Koolhaas. Thank God.

Clients are waking up. They know creative advertising isn’t all advertising needs to be. When they insist, the agency skulks away, bad-mouthing the clients: “If they would just listen, they would have the most amazing campaign ever!” So they begrudgingly make something that ticks all the client’s boxes in an uninspired mope and it bores everyone. No gold Loerie. No expanded market share. Bad advertising all round.

The Loeries? Well done guys. “We’re no longer an Advertising Award, we’re a Creativity Award.” You may as well admit that industry standards have all but collapsed so you’ve widened the scope of the awards to dilute the failure. You are encouraging fakery. In some categories the work needn’t have run or even exist. A way to save agencies the money they used to spend flighting bad work at 1 am on eTV after the shitty soft porn. Which is really the best place for it.

What will happen next is destruction from within. Termites. Fake work will win. We will chase our own tails. Scam work begets more scam work. Work that needlessly, egotistically, wastes a lot of money when a simpler, better solutions exist – is work that has no advertising merit. Believe it.

And for those “in the field”, as it were, try to remember: we are advertisers.

Not short movie makers.
Not struggling artists.
Not Michel Gondry or Bjork.
Why aren’t we doing our jobs?

As advertisers we promote and sell brands and their products. With all the cocaine and vintage t-shirts stripped away, that’s what we do. We advertise. On behalf of clients who pay us. We should be trying to find the best possible solution for them. We ought to be positioning clients better, situating them in their markets, deepening their appeal, strengthening their share, winning them the hearts and minds of their markets. Striving to have a piece of work in our portfolio that would make poets cry should be the least of our objectives. Unless, of course, having poets cry will definitely sell more Omo according to undeniable and extensive research.

Not that we should be the client’s bitch. Clients are often worthy of the loathing we secretly vent on them. Shortsighted country mice unwilling to notice that consumers are actually people and not the sum total of their spending habits.

It just means we need to be better, more professional, more successful at delivering what they need. We should be guiding them to riches. Concepts, art direction and copywriting are not all there is to advertising. Growing market share is advertising. We should advertise, as advertising should be done. With clarity, elegance and usefulness. We should take the profession seriously and ourselves far less so. It’s about the work that will work best for the client. Case by case. Job by job. Day by day. Feel me?

Want to spend your life making pretty pictures, become a fucking artist.

*Illustration © Rico.

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  1. SihleMthembu says:


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  2. Dave says:

    So liberating to read something honest and true. I watched out of my office window last week as an ad crew shot a 15 second sequence for a bank … took over 60 people the entire to produce something most people will channel hop away from or Tivo out of their attention.

    The dirty secret most industry people can’t accept is that they are in the business of selling stuff. If they were less ashamed of that they would be better at it, thereby delivering real value to their long suffering clients.

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  3. Freddie says:

    Good piece! I say wearing my converse and suit.

    Something you mentioned: “If they would just listen, they would have the most amazing campaign ever!”

    One thing I’ve learned is that there is usually a good midway. Clients’ opinions matter because they are in the industry. They know their product better than you and they always will. This is not to say that you should allow them to do your job for you. If you do you have no right to charge them what you do. But listen to them, and know what the problems they face are. Usually there is a solution which solves their problems better than the solutions they offer you. If you can address their problems then you have done your job.

    Design is creating solutions, not pretty pictures. It’s not about the clothing, the custom all stars and it’s not about your image. It is about that which you create. Nothing more, nothing less.

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  4. Fred says:

    Ad agencies, take brand’s money and hold onto as much of it as possible, negotiating down media owners who have to BEG for scraps thats left.
    All the better if the production costs are massive (esp TV) for them to take their percentages on the markups. And the poor cousin “print advertising” is struggling because of this. Ad agencies and their booking agents especialy suck ass
    and beleive me they can justify ANYTHING to make them look good on paper to the client. I’m in the game and dont bother with agencies anymore, go to the client direct if you want aything done, but then the agency might cockblock you deluxe as they want to filter all the brands’ $$ through them first … the system doesnt work
    Media owners will become more and more advertising savvy and many have their own in-house agencies to deliver the audience … not just make pretty vids that miss the plot.
    good article!

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  5. Fred says:

    Cons and suits dont go – it’ lazy and uninspired – wear propper shoes if you want to carry a suit!
    Loeries is a popularity contest.
    no class.


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  6. Anonymous says:

    yes, cause proper shoes aren’t lazy and uninspired…
    Next pitch I’m doing I’m wearing bright red snakeskin cowboy boots, skinny jeans and a military jacket. no shirt… inspired enough for you?

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  7. Tim says:

    If I were pres-o-dent, advertising would be illegal, in fact all brainwashing would be.
    But I guess no one would notice… cos we’d all be dead.
    “As my first order of business, secretary, push the red button!! Mwuahahaha!”

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  8. Fred says:


    Really !? @ Anonymous, then youre in the same category … just louder.

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  9. bobby brown jaw says:

    who wrote this?

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  10. dudie says:

    and what’s so new about this?

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  11. WBFB says:

    I got a smooth voice and I work in advertising
    I talk like this because I want to sell you something

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  12. your mom says:

    Advertising is where talentless people find jobs. The joke is they call themselves artists. They are not. What they do is not art either. These are conceited, self righteous people who think they are doing the world a favour. They are not. I’ve seen fools squander money on 30 seconds that could have been used to make full length features. I agree that one day this will all change, and it is already. The days of the bloated ad agency is dwindling.

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  13. gunston says:

    Advertising is all that is wrong with the world. Imagine a world with no ads – bliss.

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  14. bobby brown jaw says:

    ag this is like one of these shitty tshirt designers that has a fashion “line”, talking shit about nike.

    just a rant with no purpose. was entertaining though..

    not going to change shit tho

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  15. Anonymous says:

    hmmm… and those advertising spaces Mahala mag has?
    I’m sure that pays for some bills eg. this article (unfortunately).


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  16. Jason says:

    Jupiter just lost Woolies who have gone in-house.


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  17. fed-up ex-client says:

    You forgot to mention the dribble they pass for strategy, quite often not linked at all to the campaign or the product. And the obsession with black space or writing that is too small – not something i am prepared to pay for if i have a message that consumers need to see/hear/read.

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  18. Joe says:

    Blah blah blah, moan moan moan, whine and whinge.
    Who cares? Seriously, who cares.
    TV commercials in South Africa happen to actually be better than the programmes they’re inserted into. I often channel hop away from the programme in search of advertising.

    It is a talent to be able to tell a story in short form, in 30 or 60 seconds, and get an emotional response from your viewers. Love it or hate it, it obviously pays your bills (as both Mahala and the writer of this piece well know).
    It definitely pays mine.
    Tell me this isn’t a fucking fantastic piece of art that successfully sells it’s product:


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  19. Greg says:

    @ Joe

    that tracker ad IS a good piece of advertising, but I think they were talking about the industry in general. The tracker ad wont be winning any award though , will it? because the best it will ever be in our industry is “Nice”.

    if you’re in advertising you know what I mean. Look at our pride and joy radio winners this year. Brilliant. except the were all scam, written to no brief.

    thats not advertising, that’s bullshit.

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  20. cuppa says:

    Are we forgetting that shitty ad or not, its the people facing the screen who still buy whatever it is that’s being sold to them. Maybe its not just the ad agencies alone who are responsible, but how our brains have been mashed to moosh so much, and as a result, it doesn’t take much to stimulate or senses, and ich in our pockets.

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  21. Harvey says:

    Mom, is that you?

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  22. Joe says:


    I actually think it did win an award, but good point.
    But I still think South Africa is waaaay above the line in terms of quality of commercials. Ever watch US television? Their commercials are fucking awful – or at least a large number of them are. Same with the UK.

    I agree that the brief does not always make sense, and that sometimes it is just mindless babble (and I have seen some briefs that leave you reeling from the irrelevance and stupidity). but I’d much rather spend 60 seconds watching a commercial like that Tracker ad (posted above), or a Carling or American Express ad by Ian Gabriel, regardless of how arty it is, than 10 seconds watching some “real mom” telling me that “Omo will scrub the stains out – with just one wash”.
    The Omo ad is honest. True to the point, but it’s fucking boring and terrible to watch.
    Singing and dancing cockroaches, for example, are insane. Also food that tells you to eat it (say a chicken going, “mmm, I taste so good, why not slice a piece, right outta my ass.”)

    But there does need to be a fine line between selling the product AND entertaining the consumer, (this one, for example: http://www.youtube.be/watch?v=tmT1BkyZYXs&feature=related) .

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  23. your mom says:

    Nice try @Joe! You are blatant in your shamelessness. “Love it or hate it, it obviously pays your bills (as both Mahala and the writer of this piece well know).
    It definitely pays mine.” – oops, biased much?

    That Tracker ad is not art mate. You need to learn the concept and meaning of art before you begin to think what you do has any meaning. Yay, so they ‘borrowed’ an interesting treatment for a visual, took an emotive piece of music, all to sell a car tracker. You guys are so self righteous. Let me just point out that what you guys do is NOT art. Doesn’t matter how pretty you think it is, or how conceptual it is. Doesn’t matter how ‘talented’ you think one needs to be to make a 30 or 60 second story…at the end of each of these amaaaaaaazing short stories is a douchebag/toothbrush/toilet roll/(insert your own product here) for sale.

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  24. roxxstarr says:

    creative i am & immersed in the pretentious bullshit every day.

    rookie art directors & copywriters fresh out the uterus prancing around in their VINTAGE garb, spewing overused cliches out of every orifice, smearing the good name of true creatives in the dirt.

    as a designer (i choose to be called that over art director) i am looked down at by the rookies, as we all know designers aren’t conceptual.

    great article! hopefully it will deflate a few oversized egos… probably not…

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