The great advertising tragedy

Edward Ong at the recent Cannes Lions screening by MARKETING magazine at TGV Cinemas. From left: Joe Pullos (Spikes Asia Festival Director), Emir Shafri (Executive Creative Director), Edward and the Turbaned Stranger

by Edward Ong

Adland is not what it used to be.

Nobody cares about branding, Media is running the show, Digital is running wild, CEOs are getting younger, Networks are either tightening their grip, or letting the locals have a go.

Hell, even advertising is a bad word.

These days it’s about data, storytelling, creating meaningful connections, building brand relationships- anything but advertising.

None of which is a tragedy.

It’s just how the industry is evolving. Business as unusual.

Instead, let’s talk about you.

The person still reading this far: The dedicated, The purist, The man still in the office at 3am, the woman who lives, eats, and breathes advertising: You who spend your entire waking hours thinking of ideas for clients: How to grow and expand market share, How to make a brand stand out, How to use technology for maximum impact.

All these are commendable – it’s why you wake up every morning- but here’s the thing: How many minutes do you spend thinking of ideas for yourself? What’s your USP? What defines you as a brand? Why are you a better Creative Director? Writer? Art Director? Designer? Account Director? Planner? Producer?

“Be a generalist, the same as everybody else, in a world that is getting smaller and flatter every day?”

Portfolios more or less the same

Every now and then, I get the opportunity to look at creative people’s portfolios. There’s usually some brand ‘refresh’ work, an experiential campaign here, some digital work there, plus app ideas that never saw the light of day.

The only difference is the quality of the work. Otherwise, the person presenting doesn’t have any particular ‘brand positioning’.

What makes you a better suit/ planner/ creative? The answer shouldn’t be ‘because my work is better’.

 That’s what everybody says. Besides, producing better work is what your boss expects of you.

When you ask the client, “What makes your brand interesting?” and they answer, “Well, it’s a better car/ computer/ smartphone/ shoe/ shampoo/ diaper/ product”- would you accept it? Why settle for anything less for your personal brand?

Don’t ignore your own advice.

To be clear, this is not about gratuitous self-promotion.

Neither is it about neglecting the work assigned to you.

This is simply about applying the same thinking- that we apply on our client’s brands- on our personal brand.

So that you won’t be a bland, generic, same-as-every-other-agency person. Deep down, you know you aren’t.

You just didn’t know you could put it in words.

So that, when the time comes for you to lead, you can apply your unique skills and calling to make a meaningful and lasting difference. Both in your clients’ boardroom, and in your agency.

So that, should you choose to leave advertising- you will know your target market (uh, unless you’re planning to target all employers/ all industries), what makes your brand amazing; what are your strengths and weaknesses; your unique gifts, skills and calling.  

Of course, it takes a lot more to create and build something new. Defining your personal brand won’t guarantee overnight success but it’s a good place to start.

I pray you will find the courage and conviction to make that leap, to make a kick-ass difference in the place where your feet lands.

Wait, hold on – maybe you don’t want to be different, too niched, known for only one thing. What’s the alternative? Be a generalist, the same as everybody else, in a world that is getting smaller and flatter every day?

Truth is, we are all ideas people. We are all working in the creative department. Writing, designing, planning, producing, managing clients, coordinating work – these are mere executions, or how we express our creativity. Ideas and creativity never go out of style.

God willing, we can – and will always – have a job to put food on our table.

The great tragedy of advertising is this: We spend all our time developing ideas for other people’s brands, we spend none of the time developing our personal brand.

Edward Ong is on a quest to discover and create Malaysia’s best ideas.

He is an award-winning Writer and Creative Director, and can be found at

This article first appeared in MARKETING Magazine Issue #234 

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