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Consumers Blame Mad Men for Recession

Posted by: David Kiley on April 22, 2009


A new Harris Interactive poll shows that 66% of Americans believe advertising agencies bear at least some responsibility for the recession because they “caused people to buy things they couldn’t afford.”

One-third of respondents tagged agencies with “complete responsibility” or “a great deal of responsibility” for the current economic woes. Print media, such as newspapers and magazines, were deemed in the poll to bear at least some responsibility by almost three in five respondents. Fifty-six percent of respondents said news and other information websites bear at least some responsibility.

The poll was conducted online within the U.S. March 31 and April 1 among 2,220 adults.

The question asked was, “How much responsibility, if any, should the following groups take for the current economic crisis because they caused people to buy things they couldn’t afford?”

The structure of the poll is a bit questionable. Respondents’ choices were ad agencies; print media (e.g. newspapers and magazines); news and information websites; talk shows on TV or radio; cable news programs; network and local news programs; or friends and family. Oddly, banks, Wall Street, AIG, the government, etc. were not included.

But the results speak to the disdain the public has for the advertising profession—historically in line with how they feel toward car salespeople.

My feeling is that people have the opinion of the ad profession they do for several reasons:

1. We are beset with advertising that is irrelevant to us because of the inefficiencies of targeting. So, non-dog owners are pelted with dog food ads, and men are subjected to make-up ads galore. In short, the ad industry annoys us almost daily.

2. Most parents try and do some kind of job teaching kids how to eat, what to value, etc. Ad agencies try very hard to reach passed parental guidance and get their messages straight to kids’ sponge-like brains, and succeed most of the time.

3. We have a raft of ad laws that have been enacted to correct bad advertising practices, such as photographing food to make it look more appetizing than it really is. There is a lot of case law created after ad professionals tried to hoodwink us.

I could go on. But the short of it is that we don’t trust advertising, and it annoys us a lot.

But blaming the ad business for the current economic meltdown? That seems crazy. I’d point to the advertisers themselves: banks, car companies, etc. making too much credit too available to people who did not merit it based on their income and asset levels. People lived beyond their means because they could and because the banks and finance companies allowed them to.

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Reader Comments

ike raoul

April 23, 2009 8:57 AM

Spot-on when you question the structure and approach. Coffee almost shot out my nose when I read about this the first time. Like asking "Who should be tarred and feathered for robbing your 401K? Banks? Wall Street Investors? Overly tanned Mortgage Brokers?

Wait, I can't even successfully parody this, it's that bad. Are you sure this isn't really a leaked script from an upcoming SNL skit?


April 23, 2009 3:45 PM

I wouldn't blame the ad business in any way, but I do think excessive advertising is a symptom of a top heavy economy driven too much by easy access to capital creating more supply than demand. In that environment, the name of the game is simply to spend more money to make more money, and advertising is a prime beneficiary.

Bob Gilbreath

April 23, 2009 8:36 PM

You're right, the poll is a bit slanted (likely on purpose), and that the level of blame is probably unfair.

That said, life isn't fair, and we as an industry have to be responsible for the 3,000 ad messages a day that we pelt people with.

We as an industry need to stop finding novel ways to interrupt and hoodwink and start creating meaningful marketing that actually improves people's lives. We need our own form of "sustainability" movement that is dedicated to this new way of adding value through advertising.

Jen MN

April 24, 2009 12:01 PM

Consumers blaming advertising for spending too much? Americans have not been saving their money, and now that they find themeselves in peril, they look for someone else to blame, aside from themselves.

Unfortunately, many Baby Boomers and Gen X have not saved their money during times of prosperity, and now here we are at times of need, and they are scrambling for answers. We have no one to blame but ourselves for buying extravagantly, using credit, and not putting away a little money with each paycheck. Let this be a lesson to younger generations.

vikas singhania

April 24, 2009 4:43 PM

If you are disappointed at the level of creativity & fresh thinking in modern advertising then blame the procurement bods responsible for stripping the so-called fat out of agencies. They get their ads for less, but the magic has been lost as creative time & thought is deemed an expensive luxury.


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April 27, 2009 11:02 AM

I encountered a report highlighting the effectiveness of advertiser denigration of women in the 1950's/60's (too dumb to even make good coffee or get the clothes really clean, et cetera). It worked stunningly -- lured women to seek every convenience, a second car, and nice clothes to support a real job where they could finally prove themselves. Look out, men, they are using the same strategy on you. Do you notice that your practical approach to life is becoming an embarrassment, and your unimpressive performance tempts you to blame others and rationalize compromised principals to seek the trappings of success?


April 28, 2009 12:16 AM

Wow, people just want to blame everyone else. How about taking responsibility? Just because you see something you don't have to have it, and if you can't afford it and you stupidly buy it anyways then you deserve to loose it. I could never understand the people with hugh houses but they work jobs that I knew couldn't possibly afford it. You have to think for yourself and lookout for yourself when it comes to your money.


July 8, 2009 6:30 AM

While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!. But blaming is not to good. We all responsible for the recession period, because that time we don't think about the future. Without saving we were investing money.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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