What Happened To Advertising? What Would Gossage Do?

A review of the book: What Happened To Advertising? What Would Gossage Do? by Massimo Moruzzi and Roberto Grassilli

While there are quite a few misdirects in this book, its frenetic pace and desperate tone are highly entertaining. That along with its short length has it come across as an impassioned speech for change. These short excerpts give you a sense:

– “Hype and B.S. are nothing new in the world of advertising, but things are getting out of hand.”

– we need “to end the delusional thinking and start doing creative work that actually sells products”

– “That’s when I learned that stuff that doesn’t work…that’s code-named ‘branding’.”

– “When and why did the absurd idea that you can create a brand just with ads – worse, with vague ad empty ‘branding campaigns’ – come to pass”

– “Mediocre agencies found it simpler to babble about values, positioning, branding, etc. than to do the hard creative work necessary to say something interesting enough about a product to help move it off the shelves.”


On one level Moruzzi is correct. Advertising has become entertainment not sales. Branding has become about mission-led organizations not sales. It allows the purveyors of those services not to be held accountable for…sales. Incredibly, that is why they exist but they shy away from the task. Moruzzi rants some more, “no empty and vague feel-good happy-shiny-people-holding-hand ‘branding campaign’ has ever created a brand.”

Having worked in start ups, Moruzzi admits that the catalyst for this book is the ubiquitous but highly ineffective digital advertising. He likens this type of advertising to solutions in search of a problem. It is of the most intrusive and least relevant sort and the majority of the book is a rant against it alone. That is fine and well-deserved but what makes the book a little less credible is praise for traditional advertising from the famous Creative Revolution.

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He highlights the same campaigns that any marketing and advertising book does from the Mad Men era. The problem in doing so is he is missing the point that there were only a handful of good ads that each iconic agency from that time continue to hold up as effective. Arguably, this time in advertising became a game of more not better.

Teressa Iezzi, staff editor at Fast Company magazine and previously editor of Creativity, wrote in her book, The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era, “For every “Think Small” in the 1960’s there was a bottomless bowl of the same insufferable dross that’s served up on any given commercial break and that covers the ground from forgettable waste of everyone’s time and money to actively annoying disincentive to ever buy the product being advertised.”

Moruzzi holds up Howard Luck Gossage (1917–1969) or “The Socrates of San Francisco” as a beacon for today’s marketers. Gossage focused on storytelling and knew he was in the business of selling. So that makes sense but he fails to link the perceived successes of Gossage to what digital marketers what must do today. He should look to the now defunct N.W. Ayer agency. Their work is the true beacon from advertising’s debated history.

He hits a few good points when he takes on social media. This starts with the observation that “most companies do not like their customers.” He makes the point that companies are mistakenly sending customers to social media platforms away from their own site that they control. Moruzzi says, “Most companies are scared to death about getting out of their steel and glass castles and having to open up to the outside world. Look at their uninspired advertising. Look at their lame websites. But all of a sudden they want to be hip on social media? Who do they think they are kidding?”

On content he suggests that brands shouldn’t post anything unless they are willing to pay to distribute. This he believes would improve the quality and cut down on the overall amount of communications. Lastly, the author makes a point that Swystun Communications subscribes to. Marketers are always attracted to the next shiny new toy thinking it to be a magic panacea. So the industry has trained itself to chase fads while training consumers to disengage.

While the book is not accurately titled, it comes clear what he is out accomplish. Moruzzi wants marketing to be a considered craft again. A craft whose purpose is to sell. I hope he writes another but that the topic be on the 9 startups he has worked on in the last 16 years. That experience has prompted him to be frustrated and jaded. A deeper exploration into that might prove more valuable.

Biz Men

2 replies
  1. Les Denet
    Les Denet says:

    Wow. You got more out of it than I did. I thought it was a bunch of crap. I could not imagine meeting this guy and hearing him go on.

  2. Taylor Gonet
    Taylor Gonet says:

    The best part of this book is its length and design. The content I am not so sure. He seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth. The one thing you raised about writing about his startup experience is a good idea.


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