A couple of years ago, I had the honour of covering a presentation by Bob Garfield. Here's what I thought back then:
The good news is that Bob Garfield's "Advertrocities" presentation did not include any Canadian pharmaceutical ads. The bad news is that Bob Garfield's "Advertrocities" presentation did not include any Canadian pharmaceutical ads. Just because it would have been even more fun. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun to see some of the world's worst TV commercials. Like train wrecks, you really can't look away. The laughs were plentiful, the eyeball rolling was dizzying, and the I-would-have-known-better nods made you think you had crashed a bobble-head convention. However, it did make you think, which has always been Garfield's point.
As the columnist for Advertising Age's Ad Review, Bob Garfield's job is either the world's coolest or most dangerous. He gets paid to trash or triumph advertising creative. He does it with a wry sense of humour and intelligence. He tells it like it is, much to the chagrin of the citizens of creative-ville, where pony-tailed, all-in-black natives covet awards large and small. According to Garfield, too many copywriters and art directors are just too darn smart for the rest of us. Their objective appears to be winning awards for themselves not sales for their clients. Well, awards can help win new business for ad agencies-often at the expense of their existing clients.
After several reels of entertaining, hilarious and insulting airline, toilet paper, running shoe and Calvin Klein advertrocities, a question from the audience finally got Garfield on a pharmaceutical rant. While he believes that regulation is good for advertising and for consumers, and that ethical advertising really is ethical, Garfield's beef is with OTC ads. Calling them "the most consistently dishonest," he accuses OTC ads of confusing consumers about product ingredients. As a result, more consumers are overmedicating themselves.
That trend of overmedicated consumers is explainable, if you believe what Garfield says about consumers in general in his newest book, And Now a Few Words from Me, "It has become commonplace to suggest that advertising insults people's intelligence, and that is sometimes true. More often, though, exactly the opposite is the case. Advertising gives more credit for brains, judgment, and sophistication than is reasonably due… bear in mind that you have to impress the target audience even if, in all likelihood, the target audience doesn't impress you."