Romper Room or frat house? Sophomoric behavior in the creative department.

November 10, 2010


Pranking in Adland nothing new

Yesterday, I overheard a copywriter of a certain age kvetching about some of the younger staff working beside her in the creative department. It wasn’t my place but I suppose it could have been. The lady was upset, so much so, she’d taken the matter up with HR. Apparently, the young hooligans in the creative department loved to punk one-another and regularly launched objects and f-bombs over the cubicle walls. The distraught copywriter told how, for fun, the rascals threw salt at her, yelling: “You’ve been assaulted! You’ve been assaulted!” For what it’s worth I give the gag a “C-” but I don’t find it very offensive either unless, of course, you’re allergic to salt.

Be that as it may, the person complaining about it was genuinely upset. The matter got me thinking… While I am closer in age to the upset copywriter, I also remember, back in the day, being a total jackass in the creative trenches at Leo Burnett. And I wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot. I don’t know how much creative energy we expended coming up with pranks and smartass crap but if we billed hours against it, it probably would have been our biggest client.

Of all the stupid shit I did, one thing stands out…

Get in the hot tub time machine! For it happened pre-Internet, in the days of memos, dictionaries and copier machines. One day, I happened upon an innocuous memo written by an account person, whom I sort of knew. Didn’t matter the person. But the memo she’d written was an absolute gem of bad writing and crappy ideas. Words were misspelled. Sentences made no sense. It was as if this MBA hadn’t taken a single English class.

Anyway, delightful child that I was, I decided to edit her memo and post the marked-up copy on the bulletin board by the coffee and vending machines. Soon, other creatives began adding their own edits and comments. Within a week the memo had become a shrine to bad writing and a cause celebre’ in the agency.

You know where this is going: me in HR’s office apologizing to one distraught AE, as well as to both our superiors. We moved on. Nobody got fired. But to this day I still think the writer of that god-awful memo had no business working at Leo Burnett. Yet, I also think I was total asshole for humiliating her, especially so publicly.

Hearing a women complain about similar antics had me on two sides of the issue as well. Buck up I wanted to tell her. As well as “I’m sorry.”

In a past column, I likened most creative departments to Romper Room, full up with youngsters coming up with stuff productive and otherwise. Others have called it a frat house. Either way, what is it about creatives that make us –at times- so juvenile? Even with all manner of corporate rules and protocol we sometimes can’t help ourselves. We are silly. Obviously there is a line not to be crossed, racial and sexual insults are unacceptable. Putting a rubber cockroach in the candy dish at reception? I say go for it.

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19 Responses to “Romper Room or frat house? Sophomoric behavior in the creative department.”

  1. Creative minds need distractions. It gets the juices flowing. I favor the harmless yet funny. No need to get nasty.

    Remember the pencils shot into the acoustic tile ceiling? They stayed up there for YEARS. The longer they were up there, the funnier it got. I also loved the popular “moving the cube of the guy on vacation” — recreating it exactly how it was left, in the most minute detail, but on the other side of the floor.

    Oh, and it’s “whom I sort of knew;” not “who I sort of knew.”

  2. snoxishere said

    I think you mean ‘a shrine to bad writing and a cause celebre’.

    Now that, Alanis Morrisette, is ironic.

    • SRP said

      Snox-
      Of course I misspelled the word on purpose…Not.
      Thank you, I actually thought about how ironic it would be to botch grammar in this post. Did it anyway.

  3. Greg said

    I work at a digital agency and my personal favorite is I once left a boarding pass on the printer because I was running late for my flight and when I checked in I found that I had been moved to the seat all the way in the back next to the toilet.

    This has sparked a fun game of moving people to terrible seats for flights if they leave their boarding pass laying around or we can get to their computer before the Kayak cookie kicks them out.

  4. Diego said

    The creative adult is the child who has survived…

  5. JD said

    <ost out of hand creative floor frat house atmosphere I've experienced by far: The PM group at Burnett.
    Flying projectiles daily. massive amounts of alcohol consumed, tomfoolery, furniture manipulation, live groundhog running around on groundhogs day, open acoustic guitar jams…was kinda fun actually (unless you had work to do).

  6. JD said

    Oh and language blurted across cubes that would make Dennis Leary blush….

  7. the boarding pass prank is mint!

  8. Old favorites: The creative list with two or three names crossed out in red left on the copy machine, the fake tattoo on the face after a night of drinking (this one works best with a partner), filling an entire cube with paper, the flowers delivered to the guy who didn’t really get engaged over the weekend and , of course, all the shenanigans caused by alcohol consumption. Good times.

  9. tracy said

    When I first started; I was put to work in a cubicle in which the only decoration was a large poster featuring a large dildo. It’s been one ant during a career-long picnic of endless beer, flexible hours and casual dress codes. And when two cats and a light-up Frosty the Snowman lawn ornament had nowhere else to go, they were totally welcome at the office. It still smells better here than a fraternity house, though.

  10. Ralph said

    Once took a colleague’s Blackberry and renamed all his contacts so that when his phone rang he’d look at the screen and see names like “That Chick You Banged Last Tuesday…”

  11. Leslie said

    The looser you are, the more creative you are. It’s the science behind being creative. Of course, you need the self-discipline when conducting the client-facing and production aspects. But being uptight is antithetical to having good creative ideas.

  12. Tad DeWree said

    If you’ve ever wondered why clients are fleeing ad agencies for practically any alternative… you’ve nailed it.

    The best creatives I’ve known – wrote, composed, designed and directed with thier doors shut, their lights on late and work ethic clients admired.

    I think way too many 20 somethings think the vacuous, self-involved characters of MTV’s “The Hills” and before that, Melrose Place have created the mistaken impression our business is just a place you plan happy hour. I commend those who are too busy working to make it.

  13. crazy and depraved – god love this industry!

  14. tracy said

    Given the week I’m having, this is my rant on the matter of “romper room” (and, later, I’ll probably kick myself for writing this). I don’t dress up, slather on makeup and throw jargon around in a one-act corporate play. But I get my sh*t done. I may have Legos on my desk and I may curse like a sailor and drink like a fish but, at the end of the day, I’m still worrying about my clients like they’re family (and why??). And I do my work. Which is more than I can say for half the “responsible adults” I’ve dealt with. Who don’t answer phone calls, return emails or respond to questions. Who have the excuse of “I’ve been so busy remodeling my house… sorry!” (oops, raw nerve this week). Buddy, I haven’t seen my house because I’ve been working on YOUR project. And by god, if a Happy Meal toy, some salty language and a six-pack make that all-nighter bearable, so be it.

    Sometimes, the kids are the biggest adults in the room.

  15. EL said

    If the sort of pranks you mentioned truly upset people, then those people are in the wrong business. These are (mostly) not ad hominem attacks and they are not mean-spirited, based on race, gender, etc. Everybody is part of the “in-crowd” and so no one’s identity or standing is at stake. But what is at stake is ad and agency culture. And that is a culture of play, of humor, of expression, of verve, of youth, of creativity. Room to experiment, to make noise, to goof off. To be an eccentric, a little crazy, to be alternative.

    At my agency people often swear like sailors and the pranks are elaborate, high minded, puerile, intelligent, subtle. Turning cubes into bathrooms, replete with sinks and toilets. Bananas reshaped into penis’s. Fake movie posters made from embarrassing photos taken at the holiday party. And so on.

    But none of this would be acceptable if it got in the way of the work. And it doesn’t. It is a mistake to think that a sense of play is somehow antithetical to a passion and drive for excellence. The best work is often that that is done out of an inborn need to be the best. To compete and to win. And play does not end competition; it begins it.

  16. [...] I myself have romanced the child-like wonder of creation, gleefully calling the creative department Romper Room. But staying in touch with your inner child does not mean you have to be one. They are not our [...]

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