What disappoints me as I slip the bounds of the coveted 18 to 34-year old demographic is that advertising is not treating the newest batch of consumers as intelligent peers. Advertising has forgotten how to be subtle. Worst of all, it requires no cultural competencies to decode... Cultural competencies (which... vary from subculture to subculture) reward the solving of little visual mysteries, the ability to spot clues that others cannot see.While I wholeheartedly agree that there is a lessening of the subtle in advertising (ditto talent - whoever thought up the new GEICO gecko campaign should be shot), I don't think that's completely true in other areas, like television or movies or theatre.
Smallville, for example, often has little "winks" (oops - showing my age - they're "shout outs" now) to previous iterations and other things that the actors have done. Young children can appreciate Shrek without understanding the inside jokes and cultural allusions aimed at adults (sort of like Rocky and Bullwinkle for the 00s).
I say this having just gotten in a new edition of The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy at MPOW. Yes, it tends to skew towards the Dead White Middle Class Males experience but... the point behind it is well taken. There are certain things that we, as a culture, as a society, should know, or at least recognize. I'm not saying that everyone should remember the phrase "Midasize it", or remember what they were doing when Al Haig said that he was in charge. But (as the preface says) "[c]ommunity is built up of shared knowledge and values -- the same shared knowledge that is taken for granted when we read a book or newspaper." One might also add watch a movie (on screen or YouTube) or tv show.
Back to advertising, though. Even for products for the "older" (34+) crowd, the general tone and quality of the ads has gone down. It used to be that there were a few ads that I enjoyed seeing - there was humor, or something interesting in the camera work, that drew me and made me want to see it (this applies to both print and screen ads). That's less and less frequent. In fact, I can't remember the last time I said to someone, "Have you seen the ad for _____"?