There has been some debate on the subject of the Sri Lankan advertising industry. I am not involved in this industry nor do I have a background in sales or marketing but there is a question that I would like answered.
What is the purpose of advertising?
To me, the answer is straightforward: to improve sales and ultimately profits.
Business exists for only one purpose: to make a profit. People talk of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and a business, like everybody in society needs to comply with certain standards but fundamentally a business does not exist to perform CSR. It exists to make a profit.
There is a different debate, mostly concerning bahavioural psychology, as to whether businesses actually strive to provide the best return to shareholders, but for this discussion I think it can be ignored.
Working on this principle, the role of advertising, as in every other aspect of business is to improve profits. Advertising is primarily concerned with sales (I admit that there are other reasons for advertising too) but its main purpose would be to increase sales.
This brings me to a second question: if the purpose of advertising is to improve profits, then should advertisements be judged purely on this basis?
Stated in another form, does it matter how nice is looks or how well it is put together as long it does its job? Extending this further, does it matter whether an advertisement or even a whole campaign copies something done somewhere else? Is it necessary that an advertisement be original and display a certain artistic qualities?
After all the whole business of management education is based on attempting to derive successful principles from the practices of the past. Why do we read case studies? So that we may draw on examples that may be useful in similar situations in the future and apply them where possible. If a particular advertisement or campaign is successful in one market then is there any harm in copying it or adapting it in another market? To me, as long as it works, it does not matter where it comes from or how ugly it is.
Advertisements are only a means to an end, a mere tool to be used. It is true that there are elements of ingenuity that are involved in the process of developing advertisements but I tend to think that people get rather too carried away by these things.
An advertisement is not art. The fact that it seems to be regarded as such in Sri Lanka is a reflection of the debased state of society.
An advertisement may draw on certain elements and use the mediums that are found in true art but no one should regard something as intrinsically base as an advertisement as art.
There will be instances when the maker of posters or a commercial on film or television displays great skill in the use of the medium and we may justly admire such skill and be grateful that our senses have not been assaulted but it is not art.