Good Advertising: An Oxymoron?

I ended my career as a physician to go into advertising. Don't get me wrong I loved being a physician, but I found something that seemed even more fascinating, and at the time I didn't realize it would lead me astray for the next twenty years.

I know that going from being a doctor to an adman must sound strange, like heresy, or blasphemy, to anyone who's watched even half an hour of evening news, interrupted by advertising.

But this was a different time and a different country, Sweden.

We didn't have commercials on television, they weren't allowed. In fact, we had very little advertising, and what we had was so clever that people came half an hour early to the movie theaters, to watch the commercials, before the movie. I'm not kidding.

I also have to admit that I agree with some of the people who have responded to my earlier posts on this topic, that creating advertising can be more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on.

But then I came to the U.S., back in 1987.

Advertising and commercials were everywhere, like pollution, you couldn't escape it. And the witty advertising, the tongue-in-cheek entertaining commercials I was used to, were nowhere to be seen.

Instead, every television show was endlessly interrupted by commercials, and they were not even close to good. Mostly there were used car salesmen and other sales people screaming from the top of their lungs about "cash backs" and "rebates." To make matters worse, every time a commercial came on, the sound increased, still does.

I was shocked. It was all so crude: There was no taste, no design, nothing trendy about it.

Yeah, I know Doyle Dane Bernbach did some great VW ads back in 1959 with their "Think Small" campaign. But that was a long time ago, and the few good ads and commercials out there are buried under a heap of junk.

Worst of all, I worked for an advertising agency back in 1987. And yes, we did some advertising that was really good, tasteful.

But, most of what I saw in public was simply terrible. And it hasn't gotten any better. I'm no longer proud of having worked in advertising, because that would be like saying you're proud of polluting rivers. But it doesn't have to be that way, advertising can be good, can be fun; can be informative. Only it isn't.

Yesterday's commercials with used car salesmen have been replaced by commercials and ads for various lifestyle drugs.

The advertising agencies doing these ads are very cocky about what they do. But you look at the ads and commercials and most of them show happy dancing people with dogs, purple pills or blissful elderly couples. They are simply pathetic, bad taste, and a really annoying interruption.

I just wish I could pay another ten bucks on my cable bill and never see a commercial again. For the time being I simply use the mute button.

Today, medical advertising agencies are rewarding each other for some of the most boring ads ever made. Delegates attending the DTC National Conference will determine the winners for both the Best Branded TV and Best Branded Print campaign awards.

And today the Prescription Access Litigation Project is responding, by rewarding the worst drug ads and commercials with "The Bitter Pill Award."

The pharmaceutical industry spends over $4 billion a year on prescription drug ads on TV, radio, the internet, newspapers and magazines. The Bitter Pill Awards poke fun at these ads while exposing the harm some of them may cause--to patients' health, to runaway drug prices, to the doctor-patient relationship, and to the health care system.

As a former advertising man, I have to admit I think the latter award is a lot more fun.

In conclusion, I don't think good advertising should be an oxymoron. But it is. That's too bad. Because there used to be some really good ads, like this one: