McCann Truth Central
Advertising has an image problem and is failing to attract new talent. The industry must believe in itself before it can change perceptions.
The advertising industry has been rapidly changing in recent years. However, this dynamic and enhanced creative environment has not been echoed in the public’s perception of the industry. Indeed, advertising is viewed through a somewhat dated lens, an image only further entrenched with the popularity of TV series Mad Men. Recent research from McCann Truth Central, ‘The Truth about Advertising’ set out to discover what people really think of advertising and the industry as a whole. The study compared consumer responses with those of the industry; in addition to a 1,000-strong nationally representative consumer survey, an industry survey was answered by almost 500 advertising executives of varying levels and roles. Finally, the study aimed to find the levers that can help elevate perceptions of the industry and thereby attract the very best talent. It is within this framework that these 10 key truths emerged.
1. Advertising is seen to be an integral and accepted part of culture
Some 84% of consumers see advertising as a part of everyday life, with top benefits ranging from being a source of entertainment to providing useful information. Perhaps most interestingly, consumers now understand that advertising pays for much of the free content they consume. A total of 75% see this content equation as a significant personal benefit and this rises to 85% in 18 to 34 year-olds. Consumers are well-versed in the paybacks that advertising offers, especially in today’s content-rich world, and it is for this reason that advertising is accepted as part of the landscape of our lives today.
2. How the world sees the industry is not how the industry thinks the world sees it
When the industry was asked for words people outside of advertising would use to describe them, almost every descriptor was negative. Common words included ‘liar’, ‘charlatan’ and ‘egocentric’. The internal consensus was that advertising is a disliked industry that garnered little respect for the work it does. Some 56% of ad executives surveyed agreed that people working in advertising secretly wish they were doing something more creative. Such a gap in perception between how consumers view advertising versus how the industry views itself is surprising, but also demonstrates the opportunity to elevate the industry in its own eyes.
3. Advertising as a profession is seen to be a very dated version of creativity
The survey asked consumers to choose their vision of a typical ad executive from a variety of presented images. The top three images chosen by consumers were all corporate-looking individuals in smart suits. This reflects the dated version of creativity that is associated with advertising; suits in a room thinking up ideas. Furthermore, when ad executives were asked about the heyday of advertising, more than 70% said the best of the industry is behind us. The myth of a golden age of advertising is not only perpetuated by popular culture, it seems the industry believes it itself. There is a need to modernise the way advertising is portrayed, so that it is seen (both internally and externally) to be as compelling and creative an industry today as it was 40 years ago.
Mad Men: TV series has added to the perception of advertising’s golden age being in the past
4. In the context of other professions, advertising doesn’t even register
Elevating the industry’s image in order to attract talent becomes especially important when considering advertising in light of other professions. There are many alternative industries for people to be creative, advertising used to be the only one but the competitive set has dramatically altered. In the study, being an entrepreneur was seen to be the most desired profession. This is hardly surprising given the success stories of recent years; there are very prominent faces of entrepreneurialism in the US today. In the consumer survey, working in advertising was seen as less aspirational than working in management consultancy or photography. Advertising as a viable profession is not registering among a whole host of creative jobs as a desirable employment option for the best young talent.
5. Advertising is an insular industry
The ability to tackle the apathy that surrounds the advertising industry is difficult given the insular nature of the industry itself. Responses in the industry survey called for greater transparency and honesty when it comes to how agencies present themselves. If one looks at many agency websites, the language used to describe the services offered has become increasingly complex and further removed from the simple notion of creating great ideas that connect with human beings. It is no wonder that 43% of the industry admit that their parents have no idea what they do.
6. The talent war is being fought elsewhere
A total of 57% of the industry believes that it has a problem attracting and keeping talent. As discussed, the insularity of the industry is hindering its ability to engage with today’s young talent. While lines are drawn between agencies and award shows are being entered, advertising is rapidly losing potential talent. The result is that young talent no longer understands the opportunities that exist in advertising and their eyes increasingly turn to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. An entrepreneur is the poster child for today’s best profession and, arguably, defines what it is to be creative. Advertising needs to compete in this new arena if it is to continue to attract the best creative minds.
7. Advertising needs to shift its focus from a B2B model to B2C
Some 79% of the industry thinks that it is good at selling its clients’ businesses but bad at selling the business of advertising to a broader audience. Indeed, one could say the advertising industry operates solely on a B2B model, talking to clients or to other agencies. The messaging is internally focused, and there is a clear need to broaden to a B2C model. In doing so, the industry then focuses on attracting people not associated with our industry. In reframing the language that surrounds advertising for consumers, the hope would be that the way agencies present themselves would simplify, thereby becoming more accessible to the outside world.
8. The industry needs to celebrate its true economic impact
Advertising creates 15% of the US jobs market (source: IHS Global). This stat was chosen by consumers as the statement that would make people think differently about the advertising industry. Indeed, 87% believe that if people understood the true value advertising brings to the economy, it would change perceptions for the better. As one industry respondent claimed: “[the industry] needs to unveil the good that is already there.”
9. People have higher expectations of brands than ever before
As brands have become more successful and sophisticated in their ability to move people with their stories, consumers have higher and higher expectations of brands. Some 73% of consumers prefer brands that have a strong identity and clear role in the world. As the best advertising ideas have demonstrated, brand ideas that move people can, indeed, move culture. This belief is even more pronounced in younger generations and so this is a trend that can only be expected to intensify.
10. Consumers believe that advertising has the power to change the world
When consumers were asked if advertising makes the world better or worse, 72% of the survey respondents said they believe it makes the world better. What’s more, 69% believe its power is such that advertising can change the world. At its best, advertising is still seen to be an industry that holds real potential for change; the creativity of the people involved combined with the might and spend of brands is a powerful force. Now the question remains – can the industry rise to the challenge?
The Truth About Advertising is a quantitative survey of 1,000 consumers and nearly 500 advertising agency employees across the US, together with video interviews with industry experts and consumers. The data for the 1,000-person quantitative survey was collected by Toluna on behalf of McCann Truth Central and was representative in terms of age, gender and ethnicity of consumers in the US. McCann was responsible for survey design and data analysis. Advertising professionals in the video interviews were representative in terms of age, experience, gender, ethnicity and departmental expertise. Agencies that participated in the interviews include McKinney, TBWA\Chiat\Day, R/GA, GroupM and McCann Worldgroup. ‘Man on the street’ interviewees were selected randomly on Madison Avenue, New York.
India Wooldridge is deputy director at McCann Truth Central, Consumer Intelligence in New York. She has worked for brands including Barclays, MasterCard and Nestlé.