The Monty Python team asked that question of the Romans many years ago, but very few people have asked it of the often much-maligned advertising industry.
Because advertising seems to be everywhere in our world, most people take it for granted. Some think it irrelevant while a few radical people think it unnecessary and would have it banned.
But, very few people outside of the advertising industry appreciate the benefits it brings to us, and what life would be like without it.
So what benefits does the world of advertising bring us?
Advertising gives people the choice of selecting the right product or service being offered by the hundreds of businesses competing for their custom. This choice encourages companies to develop new products; this, in turn, increases investment in businesses that stimulates the economy.
By giving them an abundance of choice in what they can buy or use, makes people’s lives more interesting and stimulating, and this is made possible by the advertising industry.
The advertising industry not only boosts the United Kingdom’s economy by some £100 billion it also employs many thousands of our fellow citizens. Ad agencies and consultancies give gainful employment to a huge number of copywriters, designers, artists, plus all the admin and clerical staff needed to keep a busy agency functioning.
In addition to the staff in agencies, the industry provides work in the television world. A television advert will require camera and lighting experts, actors, set designers and directors. A well-produced TV ad needs nearly all the staff a feature film does.
Of course, our own industry, advertising by leaflet distribution, along with the direct mail sector also contributes to the employment of thousands of people.
Printers, print finishers, laminators and other ancillary industries, rely heavily on the leaflet distribution and direct mail industry, and we give employment to designers and copywriters. Writing and designing for the printed page requires a different skill to that of writing for the screen or the voice.
If you add product demonstrators and the point of sale industry into the mix, the amount of people employed either directly or indirectly by the advertising industry could easily run into millions.
What would life be like without advertising?
Very dull and very expensive.
Without advertising, our world would be a very different place where many of the things we take for granted would disappear or become prohibitively expensive.
A simple example is the newspaper and magazine sector. Without advertising contributing to the majority of the costs of producing papers and magazines, the cover price would rise astronomically to a figure most people would find too expensive to justify spending. This would mean most of them would have to close.
Moreover, do not think the answer would be to go online. The digital economy relies on advertising to fund most of its services and content.
What would happen to television?
Without advertising revenue, commercial television would find it hard to exist. The only alternative would be for them to offer a subscription service. But the high costs of producing quality programmes would probably put the subscription price out of reach of most people.
The outcome would be a severe reduction in choice of programmes, leaving only the public service broadcasters and a few low quality niche stations on the air.
What else does advertising do for us?
There are other less obvious areas where advertising plays a crucial role in the life of our country.
The secretary of State for Culture, Media and sports Saji Javid MP has stated:
“The advertising industry is a powerhouse within the UK economy and its funding remains key to ensuring that we are able to provide the quality of recreational and culture services which individuals currently benefit from.”
Therefore, without the funds advertising provides, the cultural life of our nation would be sadly diminished.
I believe without the benign and beneficial influence the advertising industry has on our day-to-day lives, the world would be a grey, flat, and boring place to be.
So next time someone asks you what the advertising industry does for us, just answer “you would be surprised”.