Rory Sutherland

Advertising alone can’t cheer people up. But advertisers could.

Advertising alone can't cheer people up. But advertisers could.
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Generally the view of marketing and advertising is that it is a zero sum game. A nifty piece of advertising might steal a bit of brand share here and there, but at the expense of someone else's sales. That's the usual assumption. Today I'm not sure it's true.

I think we are now in a position where we need to stimulate demand rather than merely redirecting it.

In some cases, marketers have already responded ingeniously to this problem. Hyundai in the US offers a kind of redundancy insurance with every purchase of a new car and under the banner of "We're in this together" the car manufacturer offers to take back any new car for a full refund if the purchaser finds himself out of work in the 12 months after purchase. It's an ingenious idea – after all, the reason people have stopped making major purchases is generally not because they are less well paid, nor because prices are high (there's never been a better time to get a bargain) but because of uncertainty. This offer neatly sidesteps this problem.

But, bizarrely, whenever they seek to create demand in the press, advertisers now find themselves inadvertently depressing it: for they are merely funding the media's own doom-mongering.

Every time you pay for a full page in a British newspaper, half of your money seemingly goes towards paying a clutch of journalists to write doom-laden articles discouraging people from doing anything except cower inside their homes waiting for redundancy and repossession. In short advertisers are unwittingly paying newspapers to damage their businesses.

What is the point in spending £10,000 to buy an advertisement in the Daily Mail that says "Buy Stuff" if that £10,000 merely pays for the three adjacent articles which tell readers "Don't Buy Stuff!"

Would it be unacceptable for advertisers to work collectively to withhold money from newspapers until they learn to cheer the f*** up?

It would be controversial. Except that the journalistic bias towards pessimism in this country seems insane. Some of it is driven by a political animus - the urge to find fault with free markets wherever possible. Some of it, let's be frank, is driven by a journalistic resentment of bankers - almost every journalist will remember attending school or university with five or ten fairly dull people who now live in far larger houses than they do; this must rankle. A lot is simple sensationalism: no one ever got promoted for writing a cheerful story. There is also a peculiar bias whereby falling property prices (and stock prices) are always conveyed as a bad news story. This is simply wrong.

Until the newspapers sort their act out, we should redirect all advertising spend towards Britain's Got Talent, or Pets do the Funniest  Things. Why would you pay to make people miserable and depress demand?

I don't know if you've spent any time in Singapore, where the press is largely uplifting propaganda. Hate to say it, but it's really quite pleasant to be able to read a good news story once in a while.

Written byRory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK. He writes The Spectator's Wiki Man column.

Topics in this articleSociety