Chapter 7: Bill Hicks’ Advertising Conundrum

Bill Hicks: comedian, Houstonian, pop-culture iconoclast and professional giver of no fucks. A man with his finger so close to the pulse of his time that only those outside of the American dream could comprehend the full weight of his words. If Jerry Seinfeld coined the term observational humor, it could be said that Hicks mastered in observations behind the mainstream veil. Hicks’ struggle was solely against any industry pushing on him an agenda other than the freedom to live by his own.

I chose Hicks to head this segment because there is a trend within the mainstream underground to rid the world of broadcasts with motive. Along with Hicks himself, these people believe that advertising only exists to push corporate product/services towards those who don’t want to see them and don’t have a choice in the matter. This is a valid argument, and definitely one that should be discussed. But in my opinion, I wouldn’t consider it sound. Advertising is the purchased void between a communicator’s message and an unknown source. Historically, the industry has moved in bulk, with the highest bidder being awarded the most universally broadcasted message. Today’s industry is shifting in almost the complete opposite direction of this tactic. Advertisers (small and large) are competing against each other for viewer exclusivity. In 10 or 15 years, viewers will rarely have to witness an ad impression not designed for specifically them.

If we can boil down the advertising problem to a centralized question, I think it would go something like, are we confronted with too much advertising? In short- yes, definitely. But only if the ads coming in are centralized. When is the last time one saw a Coca Cola ad and thought, “I wonder what that tastes like?” Companies have been promoting their messages for literally all of some people’s lives, changing their “views” to mirror the times. This phenomenon got especially egregious in Bill Hicks’ time, when television was peaking at the height of its media dominance and the only companies who could afford media space were corporation dynasties teamed up with the media oligopoly (TV is still pretty much like this, except for the 90’s didn’t have as much channel fragmentation).

But what Hicks (and others) missed are the opportunities that advertising places in the hands of the “good guys.” If Hicks was alive today, there would be no doubt that he would have massive social media accounts. He could probably afford to launch multiple products, including a publication or podcast who’s sole purpose is to shed light on all the gross, evil shit going on in our society today. This ghost entity would immediately have the need to grow an audience. Although Hicks himself might not invest in media space (because he’d theoretically be so famous that he didn’t have to) he would surely promote his products with as much emphases (al-beit in a different manner) than the good ole’ folks at Pepsi Co.

When one breaks communication down, thats all the advertising industry really is.

It’s in this sense that the modern day advertiser can compare to journalists. Both toy in a corporate filled, sensationalized world. Both understand that the industry can’t just be omitted; they survive not as a want, but as a byproduct of informational overturn. Those who enter the industry do so to accomplish different goals. Some journalist dream of working for media giants such as The New York Times and CNN, others have a sole goal of toppling big corp and industry tycoons with it.

Two sides of the same coin; both understanding that no matter what the message being promoted, one is only as legitimate as the voice backing it.

The relationship between a manufacturer and his advertising agency is almost as intimate as the relationship between a patient and his doctor. Make sure that you can live happily with your prospective client before you accept his account. 
Ogilvy on Advertising
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