Jerry Della Famina

Advertising -- the Worst Profession in the World

Try this. Ask a member of the ad industry what percentage of ads they think are crap.

Most will say 90%.

Some will say 95%.

David Ogilvy said 99%*

No one I’ve ever asked has gone below 90% but lets allow a big margin for error.

Let’s say 70% of ads are crap.

I don’t think anyone is going to say it’s less than that.

And the hypothesis also means 30% are good, right?


Can you imagine if bus drivers operated with a 30% success rate?

Or heart surgeons?

Or refs?

There would be carnage on the roads, corpses piling up in hospitals and riots in every football stadium.

No other profession I can think of would tolerate a 30% success rate.

But in advertising it’s par for the course.

Which suggests that as a profession we seem to be OK with being crap.

Of course it’s not all crap.

Any given year Cannes, CLIO, D&AD and The One Show, among others, hand out awards that prove it.

Even if you disagree with some of the stuff that wins, it’s undeniable each year turns up a slew of very good work.

It even gets published in convenient annuals to inspire us to do more good work the next year.

But we keep right on producing 70% crap.

It’s amazing we even get paid for being so ineffective.

Why do we do it in the face of all that excellence?

Not to mention a whole literary sub-genre dedicated to producing great advertising.

From Claude Hopkins' Scientific Advertising or Ogilvy on Advertising to Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor from Jerry Della Femina through to Sorry for The Lobsters by Neil French.

There are bookcases of erudition aimed at fostering excellence, and most of all, of avoiding crap.

Doesn’t anybody read them?

If they do then, why doesn’t all this knowledge improve things?

Or does it?

Would we be suffering even more than 70% crap without it?

Maybe we should take a closer look at what we mean by crap.

If I don’t like something, I may well say it’s crap.

And I probably like different ads than you do.

So your crap and my crap may be poles apart.

You may even like my crap and vice versa.

Crap is subjective.

A creative person’s criteria for good advertising may be freshness and imagination.

A client’s may centre around ROI.

An account exec's may revolve around a happy client.

As much as I believe creative advertising is the way to go to maximize ROI.

It’s also undeniable that crap can be effective.

Think about all that dreary financial direct mail.

Or all those bad infomercials.

Someone is crunching the numbers.

They don’t keep them coming because they’re ineffective.

They work.

But just because they work, doesn’t mean they’re not crap.

Since they work, does it matter?

That depends on your point of view.

And what is advertising, if not a point of view?

Theoretically you could give the same brief to two different agencies and get exactly the same ROI.

But one agency's work would win loads of awards and the others' would be crap.

So does it really matter?

Well, I like to sell stuff with a bit of dignity, style and wit.

I think it works best and it’s the way I prefer being sold to.

And if it makes the industry a little less crap.

I’m all for it.

* "Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn't sell much of anything." -David Ogilvy