Wright Thompson, famed sports writer, warns of the dangers of marketing, branding and advertising.

Wright Thompson, the marvelous sportswriter and author of Pappyland, warns of the dangers of advertising, specifically in the world of whiskey…

*Thompson is typing now*

“More and more today, we don’t want to do the work or take the chances required for greatness, and we try to fix all those shortcuts on the back end with marketing and branding — modern, fancy words that mean lie.”


Thompson’s words hit a tender spot for me.

In part, because I make my living concocting this devilish black magic and, naturally, I’m more apt than others to take this criticism personally.

In part, because I think there is a tremendous amount of truth to Thompson’s words.

Advertising is a gun.

I’d liken advertising to a gun.

It, for the most part, is neither good nor bad but instead a tool used by both good and bad people to do both good and bad things.

(I recognize this argument feels like a bit of a reach, considering guns were created with a very specific use: to function as high-velocity human hole punchers.)

Good advertising is taking a stellar product and pairing it with great creative so that more people can experience the benefits, the pleasures and the joys of said product.

Bad advertising is doing as Thompson writes, wielding great creative as a sort of “facade” or veil to make a shitty product appear to be better than what it actually is.

This is the ongoing challenge (and temptation) of living and working in advertising, if you’re any good, you can make a lot of money advertising shit products.

So, naturally, there is a temptation in this.

*in walks the devil*

Working in advertising is like sitting in the same room as the devil. You’re good as long as you don’t strike up a conversation with him.

The problem is that the temptation is forever there, in the corner of the room, smoking a cigarette, sipping whisky, flashing a fat wad of cash, begging you to come hither.

Don’t come hither.

I very well may be delusional, but I do think advertising can be a craft, a worthwhile craft that someone can dedicate their life to, a craft that could be pretty enough to hang on a wall.

But, in order to achieve this craftsmanship without selling your soul, you need to put some checks and balances in place.

Something I think admen can do to avoid the bad kind of advertising is making an effort to use (or at the very least try) the products that they advertise.

This is a page I took out of David Ogilvy’s book where he writes…

“Almost everything I consume is manufactured by one of my clients…”

He’s not alone in this sentiment, copywriter Pheobe Hurty, an individual who acted as a mentor of sorts to a young Kurt Vonnegut once hired the then sixteen-year-old to write advertising for teenage clothes her department store was selling.

Her only expectation was that he wore the clothes he sold.

Use what you sell or don’t sell it.

The sin in advertising is using advertising to polish a turd. And, the temptation is money; if you’ve got talent, you can make a whole lot of money polishing these turds and selling them as a slice of cheesecake.

Refusing to do this is what keeps you on the other side of the room, far out of reach from the devil.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.

P.S. I’ve been on a Wright Thompson bender lately and if you enjoyed this article, you should peruse the ones I’ve written here and here.

Sticky Notes is my email list reserved for entrepreneurs, creatives, marketers, writers and freelancers looking to sell like hell (without losing their soul).

Originally published at https://www.honeycopy.com on April 26, 2021.

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things. https://coleschafer.com/subscribe

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