Dreaming in long copy…

When addicts stop using drugs and alcohol they are commonly beset by drinking and drugging dreams. Usually occurring within the first year of abstinence these dreams can be strikingly vivid. The addict often wakes up highly agitated, believing completely he or she has fallen off the wagon. Even upon realizing it’s only a dream, the phenomenon can be highly disturbing. Addicts and alcoholics feel as though they have betrayed their sobriety, almost like a relapse.

Not to connect the dots but…

Having left Adland 5 months ago, I had my first (recollected) advertising dream the other night. I was younger (a man can dream!) and working on a luxury car account. The crux of the dream had me pitching concepts to one of my first bosses and mentors, Ted Bell. (Ted is now retired from advertising and a best-selling author of thrillers like Warlord and Assassin.)

If he was my boss that means the place was likely Leo Burnett and the account Oldsmobile… even if the car in my dream was a snazzy convertible, unlike anything Olds used to make.

Regardless, I remember trying to make wordplay about drivers having an “open mind” for the open top vehicle. I can’t recall the exact copy but either way Ted wasn’t buying it. “People don’t need an open mind to want one of these cars,” he kept repeating. Why I kept fighting him on the point I don’t know; but I was. Needless to say, the boss is always right. Even in your dreams. Upon waking, I realized my idea was silly and sophomoric. Very “spec book.”

Yet, what disturbed me most about the dream wasn’t the mediocre concept but rather my dogged determination to prevail. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I kept trying to make a case for my silly open minds concept.

Sound familiar? Who among us doesn’t remember pushing way too hard our first concepts? The relentless young creative is so commonplace it’s basically a cliché. In a recent AdAge interview, famed adman and now teacher, Luke Sullivan stated his biggest regret was “having an insane amount of certainty” as a young copywriter.

And there I was trying to force my boss to have an open mind!

Wanting drives every advertisement ever made. Sometimes, it passes as “need” but let’s call a spade a spade. We want. And we want a lot. Whether it’s a new car or world peace human beings are defined by this unnatural urge. I say unnatural because wanting is not an impetus for survival. Animals need sustenance and they take what they can get. A Bear eats salmon when they’re running. Berries when they bloom. It does not crave one for the other.

When born, we are much like other animals. Helpless. Dependent on our parents. A baby needs food and it is given to him. Oddly, an infant remains this way far longer than any other creature. It takes an inordinate amount of time for us to become self-serving. But when we get there we arrive in style.

By the time we’re children, the wanting mechanism is in full flower. We want more than sustenance. We want Cheetos and iPads and Sour patch Kids. Our crying out of need becomes warped, narcissistic. As we get older we crave an ever larger, more expensive and baseless array of things. Want has taken over for need.

So utterly commonplace, the only time we hear about of want is when we are in church, listening to a dusty sermon on greed and gluttony or faced with those who are seemingly without it. Like the Amish. Buddhists. Or Sinead O’connor.

Which begs the question: Is ‘wanting’ a bad thing?

It’s tricky. Unraveling the ball of yarn to get from ‘want’ back to ‘need’ is no easy feat. Does one have what he needs in order to survive? If yes, then it’s everything after that that is in question. The defect (if it is a defect) becomes pronounced when we want better versions of what we already have (car, house, boobs) or when we want what we don’t have (two cars, Cartier watch, mistress) or what someone else has (all of the above).

Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new. This is the ‘longing’ all of us in Adland cultivate and exploit every day. For without it what would be the point of marketing? Does advertising create it? I think so. Like the header on my blog reads: We make you want what you don’t need.

I’m no socialist. I’m not even Alex Bogusky. And I’m as culpable (if that’s the right word) as any of you. Likely more so. But when I observe my young daughters pining for all the stuff they see on TV, the Internet and, most poignantly, when visiting their rich friends I am forced to wonder about wanting.

Do you ever have dreams about advertising? Of course not. That would be lame. But given the pervasive nature of advertising I wonder why, sometimes, we don’t.

Like a lot of boys I dreamed I could fly. In these dreams I was Superman or, to be honest, a hybrid mutant more akin to the X-men. Usually I used my power to avoid or thwart a real-life nemesis of mine, some schoolyard bully. As I got older movies became dominant influences in my dreams. Zombies chasing me, their putrid arms just out of reach. Vampires. And, better still, Vampire women! God bless Hammer studios.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is about advertising in dreams. Or, more to the point, why isn’t advertising in our dreams? For example, How come Tony the Tiger never turns up in Z-land? Or, God forbid, Bill Shatner? I’m surprised Burger King hasn’t infiltrated my psyche. A horrific and comedic entity, the King is Felliniesque if ever there was such a thing. Perfect fodder for dreams.

Given how much these characters and images bombard us, you’d think they’d have found their way into our subconscious. “We interrupt this dream to bring you the following paid announcement…”

Considering I make ads for a living it seems odd I don’t recall having had a single dream about any aspect of the creative process: writing ads, selling ads, producing ads, or the ads themselves. Never ever.

Maybe the commercialization of our society is so overt and rampant that our sleeping minds crave alternatives.

According to Freud, dreams are an outlet for something we repress during our waking life. It is common for the recovering alcoholic to have “drinking dreams.” Teen-agers have wet dreams because they aren’t “getting any” in real life. And so on.

In a reversed out, bizarre-o way, maybe commercials and the like are dreams manufactured for awake-time. “We make you want what you don’t need,” reads this blog’s masthead. Advertisers are able to create desire by creating 30-second dreams.

Of course I’m kidding. Sex in the ice cubes was only a myth. Yet, I have been dreaming about that new Audi…

(Props to TF for inspiring this post)

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