pharma ads & the golden days of advertising

The inimitable Toad commented on my “Drug Companies are Ruining Advertising” post and he brought up a good point:

“We, in the urban upper middle class, have access to good doctors and a world of specialists. But people outside out world don’t…These [pharma] ads help alert them to the kinds of treatments that are out there. Let them know that there are options beyond what they’re being offered.”

He makes a good point, one that I would not disagree with. That said, the very fact that a bulk of advertising money is spent on medicines with very unattractive side effects (however unlikely those side effects may be) makes it by nature less prone to resulting in great work than something like car, cigarette or liquor advertising where the focus is on image and lifestyle. Image and lifestyle around a product that is, by and large, fun and more fetile ground for award-winning work.

Even though pharma advertising serves a purpose (all advertising does, right?), it doesn’t result is as much creativity of execution because of topic and government restrictions on what can be said.

That said, why has advertising changed so significantly since the Mad Men days?

Again, the Toad has (and readers) have a solid opinion: the advent of the holding companies. Having worked at an agency owned by one of the big holidng companies, I can testify to the short-term thinking that drives the holding companies. It’s all about the numbers, no matter how bad a decision driven by short-term thinking may be in the long run. But advertising is not the only industry facing similar pressure to make quarterly numbers.

My supposition, and I welcome thoughts, comments and the like on this, is that the industry’s inability to adjust to new compensation schemes since the loss of the 15% commission on media spending is the real issue. The failure to adjust has two key consequences. First, it has resulted in a price war among agencies based on standard commission models that has driven down prices and commodified creative, making agencies and inidividual talent seem less singular. Second, the loss of the commission has driven down salaries and perks with the predictable loss of talent to other industries. Why work your ass off at an ad agency for peanuts when you can work your ass off in Silicon Valley and become rich, famous and, against all odds, irresistible to the opposite sex?

Which begs the question…why am I in advertising?

Oh, right. Silicon Valley is for dorks.

(Which is why I have a blog)


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