Andrew Essex believes that “the end of advertising as we know it” is “somewhere between five minutes and five years” away. That’s what this former chief executive of the influential creative agency Droga5 writes in “The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come” (Spiegel & Grau).
“Life is better without bad ads,” he writes. “It’s simply irrefutable.” Consumers have increasingly effective ways to avoid ads, and an entire generation has been raised with a different expectation of how — and how often — it will have its viewing, reading or listening interrupted. Yet brands still spend vast amounts of money in diverse ways to promote their products, and entire industries (like journalism) are struggling with how to replace traditional ad revenue. (In fact, in the past Essex has done consulting work for The New York Times Company.) These sea changes are the subject of Essex’s highly opinionated treatise. Below, he talks about how this era of television has inspired him, the origin stories of aspirin and heroin, and more.
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
I got the idea after spending a summer making compost. I had left my previous job after 10 years to recharge my batteries: driving kids to camp, making compost and trying to write a book. It just seemed that it was time to reflect on the state of advertising. It was around the time “Mad Men” went off the air and ad blocking started to enter into the public discourse.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
That history repeats itself. We had invented the “correct way” to advertise, then took a 50-year detour pursuing a model that, in retrospect, seems kind of insane. For the past 50 years, we’ve essentially pursued a model called “command and control,” which is to interrupt people in the rudest possible way with something they didn’t ask to see, which is most exemplified by interrupting a TV program at a moment of great interest to show you a 30-second toilet-paper spot.
But that model of adjacency is irrelevant and increasingly superfluous in a world in which there is so much content. Years ago, brands were making the thing. Not the thing that interrupts the thing. The old model was General Electric Theater; the new model is “The Lego Movie,” and that’s the same thing — making things people want to see, and adding value to their lives, as opposed to making something they actively don’t want to see.
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