Does this ad make me look fat? Or more aptly: Where have all the good ads gone?

As the economy has stalled, sputtered and begun to show new signs of life again, advertising seems to have done anything but. Yes, there remain a few great campaigns that make you think there is still some hope, but for the most part there's an abundance of safe, undifferentiated spots dominating the web and airwaves. And for that, we all share the blame.

On the agency side, too many professionals are all too willing to accept too heavy handed of direction from clients that are operating from a place of fear versus a place of leadership -- presumably the result of an industry wide fear that if we don't do as directed, some other agency will. On the client side, there seems to be an attitude of “keep your head low and do just enough to not draw too much attention to yourself” for fear of being labeled a Fat Cat or the like. While a label of this sort might once have been a moniker of success, these days it's the equivalent of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter.

Call me Pollyanna, but I say poppy cock to the notion that gaining a client some attention is somehow dangerous. Likewise, so is believing that simply doing what a client asks provides greater security than just saying “no” when no is the appropriate answer. At the end of the day, no client strives to be a bad client. Some are just better at it than others. Similarly, no shareholder expects the company they've invested in to do just enough to get by and not so much as to get noticed. For the most part, every client and every shareholder wants their company to gain national recognition and be held out as an example of calculated risk-taking and creative problem solving. Now more than ever, it's beholden on the agency community to lead the way, and to do it in a responsible way.

I'm not suggesting we go back to shooting gerbils out of cannons. I am, however, suggesting that we all wake up from our malaise. Let's get back to some good old-fashioned story telling. And yes, to having some fun. It's not only okay for advertisers to poke fun at themselves, it's necessary. I've always felt the best ads not only tell a compelling story, but they make you smile when they are done and leave you longing for more. Whether that's a longing to see the ad over and over again or for the story to simply continue, we've all got a favorite that we can point to and odds are, it's from days gone by.

To the advertisers out there, it's time to make the leap and assume that the consuming public is ready to laugh again and to do it with you, not at you. And to my fellow agencies, if we all stick together and not be so willing to produce what clients think they want versus what they need, then collectively we can begin to transform the quality of work on air. Don't get me wrong, I'm neither advocating nor longing for a formulaic solution. I am, however, eager to once again be associated with an industry that is revered for its intelligence and creativity versus its compliance and stamina.

Advertisers, encourage your agency partners to step outside the lines, if only a little. And when they do, give serious consideration to what they are recommending. Often, it's the ideas that make you the most uncomfortable that reap the greatest rewards. And to my agency colleagues, never forget we control our own destinies. We, more than anyone, shape the advertising landscape. Alas, we more than anyone can improve it.