Steve Harrison: Loony lefties have taken over adland

steve-harrison-hed-2012_400x400The “metropolitan elite” has hijacked the advertising industry to promote its progressive agenda, hectoring the mainstream and losing commercial effectiveness in the process.

That is according to a new book by Dr Steve Harrison, viewed by many as a direct marketing creative god, in which he argues that the UK industry has abandoned its core objective of selling in favour of championing a culturally left-leaning social agenda.

Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell: Advertising, Politics and Culture Wars claims that a small clique of careerists and activists have taken over advertising’s institutions and top London-based agencies.

He said: “Advertising’s role is to generate demand, growth and profit – but this commercial purpose has been replaced by social purpose. Selling products is a distant second – now advertising’s goal is to change the consumer’s world view.

“But that’s not our role, and we are alienating a culturally conservative mainstream by trying to impose our divisive, progressive views upon them.

He even attacks the trade press and industry awards, both of which he courted back in the day when he was at Ogilvy, HPT Brand Response and Harrison Troughton Wunderman.

Harrison continued: “The trade press sends out emails saying ‘There’s no merit to profit without purpose’, and acts as the mouthpiece of a suffocating monoculture that’s being imposed on a once-brilliant creative industry.

“Greenwash and wokewash are encouraged by the industry awards shows. And prizes are given to social purpose-driven campaigns that are little more than PR scams.”

Harrison cites Cadbury’s 2019 campaign as recent example of this malaise, when company decided to remove the words from its Dairy Milk bar in support of Age UK to “solve old age loneliness”.

He claims, however, that Cadbury was largely silent on the subject months later when Covid lockdown restrictions plunged the elderly into what Age UK described as “devastating levels of anxiety”.

More recently there’s BrewDog (famous for its controversial “Fuck you CO2” posters) and the damning open letter sent by ex-employees challenging the brewer’s commitment to sustainability, given its “years of vanity projects and use of a private jet”.

According to Harrison, adland is not only a left-leaning progressive enclave, but also a young, white, privileged middle-class gated community. “Advertisers and marketers diverge from the mainstream on every major psychological, behavioural and attitudinal framework – they inhabit two different worlds.”

As a result of this divergence, while the rest of the UK has been struggling with the pandemic and its economic repercussions, Harrison claims the ad industry has turned a blind eye. He believes that a London-centric industry has ignored the vital part it can play in driving growth, recovery, employment and the societal healing that comes with the return to prosperity.

“Until recently, people loved the adverts on TV. But an industry that once enriched our nation’s culture is now so cut off from the mainstream, you would need a telescope to see adland’s bubble circling the real world.”

Harrison believes adland’s issues are replicated across most of the UK’s cultural, academic and charitable institutions, where “an unelected, left-leaning clique is imposing its worldview onto an increasingly angry majority”.

“This is not just one of advertising’s periodic fads. This is underpinned by an ideology that seeks to politicise the workplace and every aspect of cultural life,” claims Harrison. “And it is turning advertising into the communications wing of those pushing a broader radical woke agenda.”

Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell: Advertising, Politics and Culture Wars is out now.

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