December 21 | 2020

New Amsterdam Head of Strategy Marieke Dekker on saving the world

Not too long ago, I thought about leaving advertising. I wanted to do something more purposeful. Use creativity for good. Save the world. Or at least, make stuff people care about. 

I wasn’t alone. With agencies being stuck in traditional ways of working, client briefs looking like asset requests and the invasion of bland and intrusive ads, it’s no secret that many ad professionals have fallen -at least a little- out of love with advertising.

Mass advertising avoidance

Something similar has happened on the receiver’s end. One out of four internet users in the US and Western Europe use ad blockers to avoid the commercials, banners and posts that we make a living of. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this share is even higher among ad professionals. Which sounds like butchers being more likely than average to be on a vegetarian diet. 

‘It’s just advertising’ has become the mantra for many in the industry. Meaning: we’re making ads, we’re not saving lives. Which is true, and a healthy thought in an industry that is known for its poor work-life balance. But the fact that ‘it’s just advertising’ doesn’t mean we’re making stuff people don’t care about. We’re making bad advertising if it doesn’t make people care. In fact, it’s our only job to make them care. If we don’t, then we didn’t do our job. Simple as that. But if I’m honest, it did slip my mind for a while. 

Saving the world from bad advertising

Not all advertising is bad. Just like not all football fans are hooligans. And with digital forcing us to make things people care about, the end of bad advertising might be upon us soon. As advertising professionals, we’re not saving the world. But we can save the world from bad, bland, boring advertising. 

So instead of leaving advertising, I recently rejoined my old agency SuperHeroes. As ‘the post-advertising agency’, we embrace the idea that people use subscription models, thumb swipes, and ad blockers to avoid advertising. We believe any touchpoint can generate a moment of positive attention, so we don’t limit ourselves to commercials, billboards, banners, or social posts. Our goal is to create advertising that people choose to watch and love to share. That makes them care enough to invest their time and money. And because people don’t necessarily care about brands or ads, we think about what they are interested in and work back from there. 

That’s where good advertising starts: by understanding that not brands or algorithms, but people are in charge. They decide who or what they interact with. And they are the ones who, every day, evolve the brands that marketeers and their agencies have created. Like living business assets, brands are now constantly moving, surrounded and shaped by the energy of consumers and culture. 

Building brands in a post-advertising world

This also means that the way we build brands has changed. Of course, time should be spent on introspection and understanding what makes a brand stand out. But it’s easy to get stuck on brand identity models and 2×2 competitor matrices, trying to set in stone the perfect brand. And while we’re busy navel-gazing, we risk forgetting to step out of the bubble into the real world. Brands don’t exist in a vacuum, so we shouldn’t work in one either. 

Only by having a healthy obsession with people and culture, we can build and contribute to yogi-like brands: brands with strong foundations and flexible bodies and minds, resilient to the ever-changing world around them. Only by having this healthy obsession, we as professionals will be informed, inspired, challenged, and energized enough to create advertising that makes people care. And then, we’ll be ready to save the world from bad advertising.

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