It goes without saying that the advertising industry is a prop keeping late-stage capitalism afloat.
Late-Stage Capitalism: A human-generated natural disaster unfolding in nightmarish realtime; too often synonymous with ecosystem collapse and plagues of human suffering.
But advertising isn't synonymous with capitalism. It existed before capitalism and it will outlive it. As soon as an organism said, "Hey check out my sweet fecund body," advertising was born. Birds do, bees do it, even plants and trees do it. Advertising is a tool to express the value you want others to believe you have.
Furthermore, capitalism doesn't have to be so destructive. There are myriad ways people are approaching new forms of cooperative, green, circular economies.
Now, taking a less existential approach
We need to improve labor practices. There should be shorter work days and better separation between work time and personal time.
Twenty years ago artists produced far less measurable product per day because they didn't have the aid of computers. Computers sped up the search for reference material, not to mention the benefits of Ctrl+Z, color mixing, resizing, delivery, etc. But expectations tracked with–or perhaps even faster than–technology. The expectation for creatives and technicians to pump out incredible quantities of high quality of work is alarming to the uninitiated and exhausting to the seasoned pros. Employers should be guarding the physical and mental health of their employees far better—if not for the obvious ethical reasons, surely to protect against burnout.
This schedule also puts more stress on people (frequently women) who want to have children or are caring for family members. When structural support is lacking for certain demographics to flourish in the industry, we lose out on those demographics being in the room when stuff is happening. And as it turns out in the case of women, they're also the demographic we're most frequently advertising toward. Which brings me to my next bugaboo.
The outrageously skewed gender parity among creative directors
Everyone I talk to know's it's a problem. Including the male creative directors I work with. It's not enough to have women in the room some of the time. They also need to be directing the conversation some of the time–arguably most of the time. Numerous studies have found women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. While women creative directors make up only 11% of the field and only 1% of creative agencies are owned by women.
While things are moving in the right direction (women made up only 3% of creative directors, not so long ago), I'm arguing that things aren't moving fast enough. I will give a rare shout out to a specific creative agency. Sandwich Video, in Los Angeles, California works with a lot of women directors, including queer folk and women of color. I see Sandwich identifying talent and giving women an opportunity to excel more frequently than I've seen in any other agency. Sorry other agency friends, I love you for other reasons but they take the cake for this.
A few years ago I would have said actor diversity is the top advertising culture issue
Simply put, it affects everyone who consumes advertising. But, in recent years the speed of change has been remarkable and hopefully it will be kept up to include more disabled people, multilingual people, non-binary people... I want everyone here! We now see multiracial families (anyone remember the brouhaha over that Cheerios ad?), queer representation, and a range of body types advertising a range of products. I hope the industry can move internally with the same decisive vigor. Which might solve my last big bugaboo!
What's with all the smarmy cringe?
This is perhaps a matter of taste. But hopefully I can convince you that it's also a strategic issue as well. Let's talk about the insidious fridge buzzing repetition that best describes nine out of ten ads. So many campaigns start out with brand clients asking for something "edgy", "special", or "unique". After weeks of earnest attempts by creative departments to shake shit up, the client decides to go with the tried and true approaches we're all too familiar with. I can't blame them entirely, after all, the production cost of a commercial is staggering. But I suspect Americans are so worn down by the tone of cliche ads that they tune them out completely.