Can advertising be a force for good?

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I recently saw a post on the TED web site posing the question, “Can advertising be a force for good?”  Here’s my response:

What a nonsensical question! Advertising is a vehicle for transporting messages. It’s not inherently good or evil. It conveys the desires, values and motivations of the payer (client). Is every client good? I’m always amused when people try to spin their chosen professions as altruistic. Advertising is what it is – something you do for client money.  (It’s no different than consulting, something I’m all too familiar with.)

One thing to keep in mind – advertising produces nothing. It is the means, not the end, so it has no intrinsic demand, like Kit Kats or even Sea Monkeys. It exists to create demand and awareness for something else. If someone truly creative didn’t produce the products themselves, no one would be rioting on Madison Avenue demanding advertising – or even know they were missing it.

To take it a step further, most people expend a good amount of effort avoiding advertising – throwing out magazine inserts, skipping DVR ads, using browser ad blockers. So by definition, if most see blocking as good, then is the thing you’re trying to block “bad”?

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.