I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.
I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.
I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”
For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.
These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.
Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.
One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.
For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.
Is introversion a pervision, a function of social anxiety, or do some of us just prefer more me-time?
September 13, 2010
I went to a cocktail party the other night. Given I don’t cocktail anymore I’m pretty much there for chips and the occasional conversation. That means most every social gathering is, for me, a chore. Especially without the social lubricant. But, honestly, I wasn’t socially adept even when I was drinking. Neither a good time Charlie nor a brawler, I tended to hop from person to person nervously trying to make a connection. Failing that I would drink until it was time to go home and pass out, hopefully in that order.
Thing is I’m in an introvert. For myriad reasons –good and bad- I’m more comfortable living in my own head than most anyplace else. Consider my passions: reading, writing, running, cinema, working out, fishing; things I can and do all by myself.
Maybe “comfortable” is the wrong word. Frankly, my head can be a bad neighborhood. It gets pretty scary in there. Yet, I’m used to it. And it’s been my M.O. since I was a boy.
So, I’m at this party and I notice one of the children shying away from the pack. One of the other kids asks the little girl to play. She shakes her head no. Then the child’s mother intervenes. “Go on, sweetie, you’ll have fun.” Her daughter is having none of it. As I was nowhere near the adult party (see above explanation), I walked over and ask what’s the matter.
The mom says what moms always say when her child’s behavior is called into question: “She’s just tired.”
“I wonder if she’s an introvert,” I offer.
Aghast, the mother ruefully denies the possibility. It’s as if I accused her daughter of being abnormal.
Feeling guilty for exacerbating things, I tell the woman that I’m an introvert too, and that, after all, the world needs introverts. “Who would write all the books,” I joked, “if everyone were outside playing?” Not the best argument but it seems to make the mom feel better. Which makes me feel better, especially given how infrequently I add value to a conversation. I also think most art requires looking inward.
Driving home I thought about the incident and introversion in general. Tough being wired the way I am and having a large family. Moody and introspective, I am often seen by them as the bad guy: anti-social and self-centered. I’m working on it but isolating is a hard habit to break –even with loved ones, especially with loved ones.
At work, I make it a point to walk the halls even though my every instinct would have me in front of my laptop with the office door shut. Thankfully, I trained myself long ago to be more than capable presenting work, to the point where I genuinely adore this facet of the job. But it wasn’t easy.
No surprise I love email. With it, I can communicate without actually socializing. I’ve taken to social networks for much the same reason. My guess is the creators of many social media platforms are introverted, perhaps trying to get out! Certainly Mark Zuckerberg is.
While at times I rail against it, clamoring to be socially awesome, I am and always will be an introvert. And if that little girl’s fate is to be one too here’s hoping her mother cuts her some slack. After all, the little one might have some very big ideas cooped up inside.
September 9, 2010
Last weekend I read yet another article featuring a chief marketing officer bemoaning his advertising agency for being out of touch with new media. Here is Part II of my response…
For the entire twentieth century brands endeavored to grow by alleging they bring people together. Indeed, connectivity has long been the uber-strategy of so many of our biggest clients: CPG, QSR, Telco, beverages and spirits, the list goes on; you name a brand and I’ll show you a connectivity strategy. The Holy Grail was to create an obsession around brands. A cult. Nike, Coke, McDonalds, Apple and so many others claim –often rightfully- to have done just that. And they’ve done so with our help.
But client’s now bellow (sometimes at us): “We need to be part of the conversation. We need to engage people!” Clueless about these new paradigms, the much-educated CMO is frustrated. He clamors for relevance like a drowning man over a life preserver. He wants “likes” and “fans” and “followers.” In some respects advertisers are dogs chasing their tails. The faster they run the more frustrating things get. Agencies become their scapegoats. But isn’t that like blaming the pusher because the drugs don’t work?
Besides, whenever we created something new and different you called it “edgy” and “hard core.” We’re not selling skateboards to skinheads, you said. Guess what? We cut our shit with vanilla because you make us. But now the world is upside down. Everyone is praying to new and different Gods. Indeed, the new, new thing is the only thing. And guess what? Your best chance at getting religion is with us misfits in the creative department.
While we’ve all got a lot to learn, the ad industry began digging into new media before most industries. Likely including yours. That makes us the closest thing to experts your money can buy. Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys. I suggest you stop making fun of the red nose.
September 7, 2010
Over the weekend I read yet another article featuring a chief marketing officer bemoaning his advertising agency for (among other things) being out of touch with new media. This is for him, recompense in two parts. It’s all in good fun…
We all know the last few years have seen advertising agencies universally scrambling to figure out and monetize social media. Some are doing it better than others but all of us are feeling the heat. Adland wants to master social networks so we can sell that mastery to our clients. No big secret, right? The diminishing role of mass media, as a source of revenue needs to be replaced and social media is that new well. Maybe I’m overstating the issue or understating it. Either way, we agency folks are feeling the heat.
Yet, what if it’s actually advertisers who are most threatened by social media? What if clients are the ones truly freaking out? Not us. Them. Think about it. Clients are the ones who got advanced degrees in marketing, learning a ton of stuff that no longer has value. (Did it ever?) I don’t know about you but I got a liberal arts education. I took writing and psychology courses. Wrote a screenplay for credits. Hell, I only took one ad class and it was pass/fail.
The average CMO spent 8 years in college(s) learning stuff that seemingly no longer applies. No wonder they’re scared of new media. They didn’t take that class or anything like it. Maybe now they do but not then. If anything, such courses evolved out of communication arts, not business or marketing curriculum. Chances are, then, we artists and writers got the leg up. We were already learning how to communicate via film, design, poetry and prose. New media was merely an extension of that, albeit a significant one.
And they, with their popped collars and backward baseball caps, laughed at us. “What kind of job do you expect to get with that,” they sneered.
And what about the kids who studied computers, anthropology and psychology, all those courses no self-respecting Master of the Universe would ever enroll in? Those wimps, as much as anyone, understand human behavior and therefore the true promise of social media. They know it’s not a tool with an instruction book. They know you don’t need a master’s degree to master social media.
According to Wikipedia, Mark Zuckerberg studied Latin and enjoyed dicking around on the computer. In other words he was an odd duck who didn’t quite fit in, especially at Harvard. That is until he invented Facebook. I haven’t seen the new film, The Social Network but I’m guessing it’s a lot like Revenge of the Nerds. How sweet it is to think, nay know, that it is we, the curious legions of liberal arts majors and rogue bohemians, who understand social media and intuitively grasp its mechanism. For us it is just more of what we already know and like.
So why do clients belittle us, decrying our ineptitude at bringing them solutions, even when we do? Next up, a closer look at social media in Adland, before and after.