When you spend all day in advertising it's easy to be blind to the ills facing our industry as a whole. Sometimes you have to step back and take a look at the type of industry we've built. Which is what happened the other day when I stumbled across a piece about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and was struck but how aptly it described us.
And since everyone in advertising likes to consider themselves a pop-psychologist I thought I'd try my hand at it. So here is my comprehensive diagnosis according the to the 9 criteria for NPD.
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements, exaggerates achievements and talents)
Advertising bills itself as a lot of things. The most creative industry in the world. Cultural movement builders. Creators of the future. But given the billions of dollars that are spent annually on advertising and its lack to affect anything (including, shamefully, the sales of our clients) most of these statements are just the chest-beating of an industry that believes itself better than it is.
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
As far as I'm concerned we invented this. This is what advertising sells people on. The people they can be. The people they should be. But it's also something that is present in every agency. At every all agency meeting. "Agency X is going to take over the world. Has the smartest people. The biggest reach. The widest skill set."
Believes he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
What agency doesn't have it's own special sauce that makes it unique? Patented processes, ideas, and cultures that are their secret to success. These are the way we get business. Even though they're all the same. And often more full of air than substance. Also throw into this mix that advertising loves celebrities. Celebrity celebrities. Celebrity directors. World leaders. It's a minor glamour industry that believes it is akin to Hollywood.
Requires excessive admiration.
This is the most apparent one of the bunch. How many awards schemes are there now? Advertising agencies, people, and clients are obsessed with awards. For a lot of people it's the only way to prove you're worth your salt. And if you don't win an award you could always create internal awards. Or an award scheme of your own.
Has a sense of entitlement.
Our messages are allowed everywhere. We believe we should exist because we have the divine right to. We villainize ad blocking software rather than figuring out creative solutions to work around it. Or make millions of people want to block our messages. We rip off artists with or without their permission. If The Black Keys says "no" to using their song in our ad we just go to a music house and ask them to give us a Black Keys rip. We believe that every bit of culture belongs to us.
Is inter-personally exploitive. (i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.)
Uh, duh. This applies to talent in agencies, clients, and consumers.
Lacks empathy (Is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others)
Have you heard the way most people in agencies talk about consumers? They denigrate them. Think they're idiots. An unfortunate roadblock in our quest for creative excellence.
Is often envious of other or believes that others are envious of him or her.
Loads of agencies seem to want to be anything other than an ad agency. They want to be storytellers. They want to create the next Uber. They're in the data game. But they're also waking up to the idea that we can't keep people because other industries are offering things we can't. So...maybe? Probably? (UPDATE: Sir Martin Sorrell just today claimed that the advertising business is no longer in the business of advertising. So I'm moving this to an extremely highly probable.)
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Haven't we been through this already?
So, to me, it looks pretty cut and dry. Advertising totally has a case of NPD.
But here's a bit of a walking back from the case I've built. I think this diagnosis is what represents the worst of advertising. It is what people hate when they say they hate ads. It's not only driven by agencies but by their clients and their refusal to say no to those clients. It is a sickness that has so consumed the industry that we believe it to be the way things have to be.
There is still a kernel of goodness in advertising. People who are attempting to buck all the trends that aim to make advertising consume itself. That's the reason a lot of us still try to create something good in the face of all the evidence above. But that means we can't pander, we can't insult the people we're trying to advertise to, and we can't make these elements the thing we're most proud of. We need to do better because it might be impossible to do any worse.
Agree? Disagree? State your case below.