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.