They are everywhere. Singing jingles in living rooms. Lining phone screens. Inhabiting the voices of podcast hosts. Looming like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg from highway billboards. They are ads.
But while the work of stealing attention might seem infinitely employable, something strange is happening behind the scenes of America’s most inescapable industry. For the first time on record, the number of advertising-specific jobs in the U.S. is declining in the middle of an economic expansion, according to government data.
Anyone following the slow-motion meltdown in the media industry in the last year might expect that advertising is suffering a similar downturn. But it’s a far more complicated story than that. For the last three decades—as far back as the relevant Bureau of Labor Statistics dataset goes—advertising jobs have grown in line with the economy. Today, however, a variety of traditional advertising jobs appear to be in recession mode. The number of jobs at ad agencies fell by about 5,000 last year, on net, while employment in media-buying agencies—firms that tend to focus on advertising strategy rather than designing or filming commercials—hasn’t grown since 2013.
Number of Net Jobs Created Annually in Media and Advertising, in Thousands
What’s going on? It’s certainly not a case of fewer advertisements. The typical American has gone from seeing about 500 ads each day in the 1970s to about 5,000 today, according to a common industry statistic (and some more-recent estimates are much higher). That is one corporate message for roughly every 10 seconds of waking life.