Markus Gull

What's that funny smell?

Can you smell it? What's that smell? Is that advertising?

Hm ...

It seems to me that what the great Franz Zappa himself said about jazz applies to advertising: "Jazz isn't dead. It just smells funny."

No, advertising is not dead. There will always be advertising. Advertising too. If only because otherwise no one would find out about the most mundane things on their own, such as the fact that the White Giant is in action, that there are fresh Teslas at the car dealer again and also that the Kirtag is taking place at the end of the month, where the Zillertal yodelling trio is making a comeback (finally). Someone has to tell you something like that, right?


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

Link to Apple Podcasts  Link to Spotify  Link to Soundcloud  Link to Amazon Music

But advertising in the sense of advertising - TV radio posters, online advertising and so on - where brands are built up, images are created and desires ignite, this advertising, it will probably ... not die either. However, if it is to continue doing what it is supposed to do, then it is high time for something new. And for something fundamentally new, otherwise it's going to be tight. Then it won't work any more, even if it's still alive. It will just smell funny. It already does.

Yes, I am firmly convinced that the content of advertising must change, will change. They already do, sometimes at least. It wouldn't be the first time that advertising content changed massively.

Advertising or Adverstalking?

Back then, or even a little earlier than back then, there was nothing but proclamations, touts, market clamour, advertising and propaganda. That was all that was known, and that was until someone had the idea of having an idea and packaging the usual messages a little more originally, charmingly, less loudly, but more intelligently. I have no idea who it was that started separating people from their money with refreshing elegance, but he changed the advertising world for the better and ushered in the era of Mad Men. Mad Men was the name given in the gold-rush era of American advertising in the 1950s to those advertisers, i.e. the Ad Men, in the hip New York advertising agencies, most of whom ran their offices on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. What a multiple nicely screwed pun. It makes the copywriter's heart leap to new heights!

There were a lot of colourful personalities - David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Rosser Reeves, Leo Burnett ... But my favourite Mad Man from that time was always Howard Luck Gossage. He was so mad that he didn't work on Madison Avenue but in San Francisco. That's where it starts. He had his agency in an old fire station, and he was crazier than all the others. In this respect, Howard Gossage is more than a real role model. And otherwise, too - as a weird bird, cool thinker and "Socrates of San Francisco" with many of his announcements from then to now, a spectacular visionary. Steve Harrison has written a highly recommended biography of Howard Gossage. Its title alone should be programmatic for all of us and the advertising world in particular: "Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man."

You probably think of Mad Men to the TV series penned by Mat Weiner. He wrote the pilot episode back in 1999, and it took until 2007 for someone to recognise the gem and finally get the series on the air. It was on AMC at the time, but if you feel like it, you can bing (whistle, as they used to say) all seven seasons on Amazon Prime. Pays off!

Mad Men was a real novelty. Not so much because of the advertising scene it described, but because of the masterful everyday contemporary culture, drawn with enormous attention to detail even in the décor, and its change in times of social upheaval after WWII, which was strikingly reflected in the industry and messages. And above all, Mad Men was so great because of the masterfully told meta-theme, because of the inner story about truth and lies, how easy it is to confuse the two - and to be careful not to notice it, because the truth is not so simple after all. Truth in advertising may seem like a contradiction in terms to many people, although "Truth well told" is still the motto of the McCann advertising agency, which has been around since 1912 and is known to everyone through its decades of work for Coca-Cola.

Is advertising art or dead?

Advertising was indeed once a stylistic force in the playing field of popular culture - and vice versa, as Andy Warhol's work, for example, shows. "Is advertising art?" was a frequently asked question. Today, many ask - not least in the midst of the epochal upheavals of our media landscape: "Is advertising dead?"

Yes, advertising has become adverstalking and annoys people to no end, me too. But how! Adverstalking turns us into click rates, conversion rates, contact numbers, target groups and order numbers. It takes away people's dignity because they are only seen as a "source of income", as credit card chasers, as usable data records.

All sorts of things have really gone wrong for us.

A lot of things urgently need to be put right, to be moved. For this, we need crazy people - Mad Men and Women of a new class, yes: style class, with prior correction of the industry's inherent postural damage. The sheer force of the dissemination of advertising through the media moves all kinds of things, one way or another. For this reason alone, advertising and those who make it bear an enormous responsibility. Responsibility and advertising? - Another contradiction ...

But no! In fact, I am firmly convinced that it pays off when companies and brands accept this responsibility and fill their advertising space with things that make a positive contribution to social development. This of course means advertising agencies in particular. But first and foremost, it needs courageous entrepreneurs and responsible persons in the companies who themselves think in a new way and not only allow new thinking, but demand it. The new content has to come from somewhere, right? After all, there is not a single piece of advertising in the whole world that someone has not ordered to be produced and to which someone in a company has not said: "Yes, that's how we do it" and given the money for it.

It's the same in advertising as in all other fields of pop culture. At some point, for example, someone seriously had the courage to say at a meeting with producers in Hollywood: "I have a film idea! Imagine a tornado swirling a ton of sharks into the air and dropping them on Los Angeles." In fact, there was no one in that meeting room who helped the guy into his white jacket and then knotted its sleeves behind his back. No, on the contrary. Someone said "Yes, that's how we do it!" and then handed over the money. If I counted correctly, there are now six episodes of "Sharknado", and they weren't produced because the first one was a flop ...

Crazy or funny?

You can do all kinds of crazy stuff, but you don't have to. You shouldn't, you shouldn't even suggest it. But you could - as an advertising person, for example - bring other craziness to the clients: "Imagine that we no longer advertise our products, but for a cause that we have and because of which we produce what we produce. Imagine that we are initiating positive change in society."

Does it smell funny? I think it does, but it's not as funny as advertising smells, is it?

I am currently helping a number of companies - some of them quite long-established - to do just that: find, define and bring concerns into the world. There is a bank, a manufacturer of nutritional supplements, an insurance company, a brand for protective clothing and a cosmetics retailer. All of them are concerned with the same thing, and each of these companies is crazy. It's going crazy, straightening itself out. Each of these companies turns into a content company, a part of this content you can see on your account, eat, have as a policy, dress yourself with, put on cream with...

The best thing about it: for some years now, relevant research has shown that people (fka clicks, conversion rates, target groups and order numbers) not only appreciate this, not only look for it, but increasingly even demand it from companies. I correct: not to an increasing extent, but to a rapidly growing extent! It's not everyone yet, it's not overwhelmingly huge crowds yet, but it's becoming more and more and more. There are already so many that, in my estimation, there is no stopping them.

And relevant research also shows this: Brands and companies that succeed in conveying a special purpose are rewarded with significantly better key figures, a much larger share of the ever-popular share of wallet and a significantly better stock market performance than those that do not. So it's not about my beautiful pipe dreams, it's about bone-dry success, real money and stuff like that. In fact, it's about the whole thing. Because if a company doesn't have a real theme, then sooner or later there's only one thing left anyway: the price. The shrinking price, also strictly speaking.

Human or consumer?

And speaking of advertising, truth, lies and responsibility: Concern does not mean a gag, greenwashing, meanwashing or greencashing. For that you get the well-deserved shitstorm from the community, i.e. what they used to call a Haustetschn on Madison Avenue.

What is the reason for this change? Maybe what Howard Gossage said in his day is still true: "Addressed as a human being, rather than as a consumer, people are actually capable of buying." And these people are interested in different subjects nowadays than they were five, ten or 50 years ago and, again Howard Gossage: "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes that's an ad."

Wouldn't our times of the most diverse upheavals be the perfect times, and wouldn't it be high time for this dislocation of the supposed status quo? I don't believe this is the case, I am firmly convinced of it! We should do quickly, courageously and unflinchingly what crazy people do. As one commercial says, in the legendary Chiat/Day (Mad Men in Venice/Los Angeles) piece for Apple: "Those crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who will." In 1997, the campaign established the Apple claim"Think different" until today, although it is no longer in use at all.

That's the point, and here we come full circle to Don Draper, the main character from the series Mad Men. In his presentations, he surrounded clients with stories that told of the people who were to become clients. Don Draper told stories about their hopes, desires and fears. Storytelling was the secret of his success, you could say.

It is always stories that we tell - to ourselves and to each other - with which we discover truths, take positions and change them as well. It is always our perspectives, our stories, our values, views and insights.

If every person, every company, every one of us could put things right a little bit, then the door to a new history would already be a little bit open for all of us, wouldn't it? A crack wide enough to let in a little different light. That way, a different light could fall on everything we do, including advertising.

In this light, we could send positive signals to everyone else, give confidence impulses and support everyone else to do the same. This might even result in a tomorrow that has the makings of a new, a better story for all of us, one that is about all of us and multiplies our strengths.

When we do this for each other, we do it for ourselves at the same time. Then we meet each other beyond right and wrong, to borrow from Rumi.

And I think that 's what my grandmother meant, old Story Dudette, who as one of the first legendary supermodels had plenty of suitors on Madison Avenue, but only wrote Don Draper on the bathroom mirror with her heart-red lipstick: "No Story. No Glory."

Share now

Newsletter subscription