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Review: The End of Advertising by Andrew Essex

endThis review first ran in the July 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die and the Creative Resurrection to Come

By Andrew Essex

Spiegal & Grau

$36

I’m a big fan of podcasts.

The Turnaround and On the Media are my favourites for two reasons.

Both podcasts deliver great hosts, guests and conversations. Turnaround host Jesse Thorn talks with interviewers about the art of interviewing while On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield look at how the news media shapes our view of the world.

And here’s the other reason why I’m a fan. The conversations on these podcasts aren’t interrupted to pitch razors, underwear and meal kits with special promo codes.

Lots of us are tired of traditional advertising and we’re finding ways to escape it, from ditching cable TV for Netflix to paying for premium advertising-free content and downloading ad blocking apps on our smartphones.

Advertisers need to start adding value to our lives and stop interrupting and annoying us, says Andrew Essex, author of The End of Advertising, past CEO of the award-winning Droga5 ad agency and a board member with the American Advertising Federation.

“In an era of unprecedented noise, producing pollution in the form of annoying advertising represents the height of an unprincipled approach and, more worrisome, is likely flat-out bad for business.

“Advertising will continue to take its lumps,” says Essex. “Like everything inherently unwanted, from stale pastries to last season’s social media, it was doomed to be overshadowed. Like pollution, we prefer it in the landfill rather than randomly strewn along the road. People, platforms and products will have to distinguish themselves by doing something radically different, will have to embrace the not-so-radical idea of always endeavouring to be useful, authentic, original and/or interesting.”

So what’s the radical alternative to traditional advertising?

Citibank spent $41 million over five years to sponsor New York City’s bike sharing program. Citi Bikes give the bank 6,000 roaming billboards, New Yorkers and tourists get a bike share program and taxpayers don’t pay a dime.

“You don’t need much more than intuition to see that most people would choose a clean Citi Bike over a useless ad,” says Essex. “One accomplishes something, the other doesn’t.”

American Girl puts out movies, books, clothes and accessories. Essex says his daughter knows all about American Girl without having ever seen a traditional TV, magazine or Internet banner ad from the company.

“All this very savvy company had done was communicate its values via content, a very old model that was new and necessary again. They’d become genuine storytellers and put themselves as the centre of the story.”

And then there’s the world’s biggest toy company. In 2014, Lego found a way to transcend advertising with the Lego Movie. Lots of us paid good money to put on 3D glasses and watch a 100-minute commercial. The Lego Movie grossed $260 million in North American and another $210 million internationally. In 2015, Lego overtook Mattel to become the world’s most valuable toy company with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

“A brand made a brilliant, well-executed movie,” says Essex. “The movie was a hit. The movie also happened to be an ad, one that people were willing to pay to see. For the first time in a long time, the thing that normally sold the thing had become the thing itself.”

Your company doesn’t need to create the next Hollywood blockbuster, says Essex. Just sponsor quality content that reflects well on your brand. Make that content commercial free for viewers, listeners and readers. Subsidize silence and give audiences freedom the interruptions and annoyance of traditional advertising.

And what do you get in return? If you became the presenting sponsor of The Turnaround or On the Media, you’d earn my gratitude, my attention and quite possibly my business.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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