It’s rough out there but I still think we ad folks take ourselves too seriously.

August 31, 2010


I was born moody…

Are we having fun?

I ask because sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously. I know I do. I also know it’s often a character defect disguised as something noble, like integrity or being a hard worker.

And while I think everyone could benefit from lightening up, I’m primarily talking about us folks in the advertising business. Obviously, doctors need to take themselves seriously. (I want mine to.) Plenty of other vocations demand a more serious attitude.

But we in Adland are not one of those groups. Nor should we be. First of all, we don’t make anything. Our product is ideas. Each one of us is a creator or a facilitator of creation. Therefore, when we take our craft too seriously we risk playing God. It’s okay to debate whether what we do is art or commerce or both. However, we go too far when we think of marketing ideas as precious. They are not. And despite what your mother told you, you are not either. We may be talented. We are certainly lucky. Said another way: what we do isn’t precious but that we get to do it is.

I’ve always considered my job one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received, be it through hard work, good luck or likely both. And I’m not just talking about now. I loved my first years at Leo Burnett as much, if not more, than any other time in my life. And that’s saying a lot because I love my current job. Love it.

Advertising (or whatever we’re calling it) has been very, very good to me and to a lot of people. You, I hope. Though our business is changing, perhaps diminishing, it’s still one hell of a gig. I won’t waste space selling the proposition. You know what I mean. Next time you’re at a dinner party or something similar, take note of what the other guests do for a living. We are surrounded by traders, financial advisers, retailers, lawyers, and, sadly, the unemployed or underemployed. High salaries or not, in good times and bad, I wouldn’t trade places with any of them. Would you? (Note: teachers are pretty special; they are an exception. ☺)

That is not to say we should get on high horses. I suggest we count our lucky stars and say a prayer to the Gods of Advertising and to God period that we get to do what we get to do. Those of us still gainfully employed in this ephemeral task should lighten up. If any group should be whistling while they work it’s us!

Special note: I’m unsure of this writing. I wrote it some days ago when my mood was better. Now, I worry it’s more wishful thinking or even magical thinking. Lord knows, there’s plenty to fret and wonder about when it comes to our business. I’m also considering the many creative directors who’ve recently resigned their seemingly wonderful jobs. Why? I’m afraid the answers are in conflict with my above points. What do you think?

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9 Responses to “It’s rough out there but I still think we ad folks take ourselves too seriously.”

  1. tracy said

    Timely! Sunday night, my partner and I got into a screaming match over an insignificant bit of copy. “You’ll never get anywhere in this business if you keep taking things so personally … and you’ll encounter way bigger a*sholes than me,” he said.

    This is not the first time he’s had to give me this particular piece of professional advice. I guess I am lucky to work in a world where the arguments are over an added letter and an apostrophe. Yes, silly in retrospect, though it did seem like the survival of Western civilization hinged on that ‘o’ at the time.

  2. Madison said

    I think the sheltered nature of your industry is what prevents some from seeing how blessed they are to work in a highly creative field.

    On top of it, many people who enter the adland appear already quite separated from the Main Street America by the virtue of their education/upbringing etc. I am yet to meet an advertising guy/gal who would say Sarah Palin has a point; Wal-Mart is great for shopping or wear Ed Hardy t-shirt un-ironically.

    And yes, arguing about fonts ALWAYS beats working with the public.

  3. I keep my great grandfathers lunch pail on my desk. The lunch pail he took down into the coal mines with him every day. It reminds me that I’m the luckiest man in the world. It also looks really cool.

  4. tracy said

    My father has his father’s lunch pail as well. The mining company put my dad through school. He worked a semester and then returned to Penn State for a semester alternately to get his degree. I was born in southern West Virginia and grew up on crazy Appalachian mining stories. It really does put things into perspective, when you think about cave-ins and coal trucks rolling off mountaintops and the guys who washed up to their elbows just to go to church… then you DO feel like an ass for waging wars over words and letters. Thank you, Tom, for writing that.

  5. Madison said

    I think you don’t have to look back into the past to feel lucky about your profession. I used to work at Starbucks with an immigrant from Bulgaria whose original career in the home country was researching DNA mutations.

    It was disheartening to see customers shouting at her because of wrong orders when she should have been in the lab working on the stuff she loved and was good at.

    Maybe she would’ve been able to come up with a cure for being a jackass customer in the process…

  6. Drooger said

    I agree totally. We are very lucky. Sure, it has it’s moments and of course, it’s not like it used to be. (you know what I’m talkin about) But it’s almost always fun. If not, then it’s usually funny. You really HAVE to laugh at it. There is no way to take it seriously and that’s the greatest thing about it. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people working in this business. More variations than you can imagine. Smart, extremely talented and thought provoking people. I’m a producer, I get to work with film crews. These are some of the most incredible craftsmen and problem solvers you could ever imagine. If you have to pick people to be on a life raft with you, for God’s sake, take a Key Grip. More companies should run like film crews.
    I feel very lucky to be in this business and to have done it for as long as I have.
    Rock and Roll of the business world? Sign me up.

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