The Dubai Egotist
Yeah, I know. In the past I’ve gone off on rants that dropped the f-bomb more times than napalm was dropped on Vietnam. But unlike war, advertising is not really a matter of life or death. And although my rants always serve a purpose, which is to help you improve the work you do, it’s important to remember that it’s just work.
As my idol (well, one of them) Luke Sullivan said recently:
“Dude, this is advertising. You’re not pullin’ babies out of burning buildings. You’re not curing cancer or making peace. You make commercials for cry-eye. Websites. End-aisle displays. Jesus.”
Maybe the combination of Mr. Sullivan spouting those words has, along with the seemingly invincible Alex Bogusky quitting CP+B, planted a seed in my noggin that has started to grow. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age. But advertising is not exactly a noble profession is it? In fact, in the 80s it was up there with stockbroker and plastic surgeon as an industry full of overpaid, arrogant assholes. These days, the overpaid has been replaced by overworked, but the arrogant assholes are never in short supply. I should know, I’ve been one for many years.
But why bring this up? Especially after spending a few years shouting at you all and generally being a surly old bastard.
Well, it all comes down to quality of life and your own sanity. I think we all have projects that we know are more important than others. We have those big jobs that not only make money for our clients, but also give us the recognition we deserve. In the grand scheme of things, though, they’re just ads. Creative ads, maybe, but they’re still ads that are ultimately a distraction from daily life.
Some people say that ads are a break from that routine, like the Superbowl spots. Well, those spots aren’t even ads to be honest. They’re more like entertainment with a logo stamped at the end. And even then, so what? They give you a chuckle, you say “nice way to spend $3 million” and a week after that they’re a distant memory. They go in your book, of course, so that you can get a better job and do more ads that people will forget (cue Elton John singing Circle Of Life).
Occasionally, advertising can be for a good cause. You get to work on a charity, or promote health and well-being. On those days, hell, you really are doing work that can save lives. But those jobs are few and far between. Ads for telecoms, financial institutions and junk food are far more prevalent.
I remember once working all weekend on a project that was deemed “of utmost importance and urgency” by the client. We slept at the agency. We ate cruddy food. We drank beer and coffee in equal amounts. We cracked the job and presented it at 9am on Monday morning. The client LOVED it. Oh yes, we were golden.
But when we saw that mighty newspaper insert covering the streets of the city the following week, we were less than ecstatic. That highly important job we sweated bullets over was just tomorrow’s garbage. Maybe 1% of the people who saw it actually read it. And maybe 2% of those gave enough of a crap to call the number. But how many trees died to get that wonderfully creative but ultimately innocuous ad onto the streets, lining the cardboard boxes of the homeless?
I think we often confuse passion and a commitment to excellence with something far less dignified. And that is obsession.
We get stuck in a box, void of all perspective, and believe that what we’re working on is vitally important. It warrants shouting matches, 19-hour workdays and a social life as anorexic as an Olsen twin. It often leads to stress, alcohol abuse, drug addition (prescription or illegal), ulcers, heart attacks, therapy sessions, divorces, affairs and sleepless nights that turn into sleepless months. It can even cause death. No, it’s not an exaggeration, ad people over the years have died due to some of those reason listed above, suicide and who knows what else.
And for what? A 48ft billboard that sells a whole bunch of vodka? A TV ad that shifts more under-arm deodorant? A radio spot that gets people to pick up the phone and call Geico? Even if it’s an uber-cool spot like Apple’s 1984 or the Guinness Surfers, it’s just something designed to sell computers and booze.
The Denver Egotist is on a mission to help Denver suck less. But that is a philosophy that applies to more than the work. It applies to everything that touches your life in this business. And how much does it suck to have a job that makes you ill, keeps you at the office for days on end, and stops you from seeing the people you love?
I am by no means saying that the work you do doesn’t matter. Of course it does. And I’m not asking you to ignore my previous posts that talk about being a good CD, the importance of a great creative brief, or how to sell great work to clients. This is still just as relevant. We should all strive to make the work we do better, for our clients and ourselves. But do it with some perspective, if you haven’t been doing so already.
Think about this the next time you’re in a screaming match arguing over the point size of a headline, or have reduced some newbie account coordinator to tears because she dared to say yes to an idiotic client request. Work matters, but not at the cost of your sanity or your soul.
Felix Unger is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He's been in the ad game a long time, but he's still young enough to know he doesn't know everything. He'll give his opinion, you can take it or leave it. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He has been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.