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?
August 2, 2010
My last post was a rebuttal of sorts to a comment made on this blog challenging my ability to create a gay main character in my new novel, Sweet by Design. I replied, tartly, that I’d been doing it for years, citing the campy Altoids campaign as evidence. They didn’t call it “curiously strong” for nothing.
Yet, the blogger’s challenge is a fair one. And damn intriguing.
A reader and contributor to this blog, Charletta Lynn Barton, an African American, provided great insight into the possible motive behind my heckler’s jibe. Actually, several comments on the post are worth reading. Another commenter, Bryan Carmody pointed out that straight actors have been portraying gay characters forever. And vice versa. Can you say, Rock Hudson? This got me thinking…
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Tom Burrell on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Tom, as many of you know, is the founder of Burrell Communications, one of America’s first advertising agencies devoted primarily to the African American consumer. He is also black.
Among other things, I debated with him whether an advertising agency could (or even should) be an expert on African Americans in the first place. Was that not racism in reverse –that only black people can sell to black people? I was trying for idealism but probably came across as naïve. Still, I think in a perfect world a good writer should be able to understand and then write for any segment of the population. Including blacks. Including the opposite sex. Including gays. That’s the job.
His response was not surprising. “It’s not a perfect world. Not only are black people woefully underrepresented in agencies but they are portrayed incorrectly by them as well.” I’m paraphrasing Tom but those were his points and they were good ones. Still are.
Yet, part of understanding people from other cultures is to walk in their shoes. While that is not literally possible it is possible in literature. And art. And copy. Moreover, I think it’s critical we try and that we try to get it right. Empathy comes via sharing experiences. No other way. Writing is one of them.
And so I endeavored to be empathetic to gay life. I have that right. Maybe it’s even an imperative. We have a black President. We almost had a female President. And, if the current scholarship on Abe Lincoln is to be believed, we may have already had a gay President.
As my former creative partner, Mark Faulkner (who is gay) once told me: “It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a life.”
I invite you to read Sweet by Design. Did I get it right? And just as important, Is it a good read? Let me know. The story comes free. And I’ve added various interactive elements to make it more entertaining, including a design contest in which the winner gets an Ipad! Work has already been submitted, and, as fate would have it, by an African American: Sweet by Design (the first cover!)
September 2, 2009
We can never satisfy these ladies but we keep trying…
Possessions possess us.
My father made the above statement to me eons ago, I think as a reaction to some big material item I was thinking about purchasing. Maybe it was a house or a car or a cabin in the woods. I don’t remember. But I cannot forget the comment. Accursedly true, not to mention prescient. Coveting stuff is dangerous business.
First of all, it’s a borderline sin. Wait a minute, you say! Wanting what we don’t have is benign. Everybody does it. We all wish for things, right? You’re thirsty you want a Coke. You have a baby you want a new house. You’re bored you want to have a fling with the neighbor…
Subtle the progression from natural instincts to self will run riot. While my latter example is obviously the egregious one, I could argue they all are. Coveting a new home because you have another mouth to feed might be entirely inappropriate. What if you’re barely making ends meet as it is? Maybe only Mom wants the new home. She’s met a bunch of new moms at school and, gee whiz, they all have such lovely houses. Dad’s realistic. Why can’t we just convert the extra bedroom for the baby? They fight about it. Things get worse. Dad starts thinking about his secretary, who’d be happy with the life he can provide. And so on. If you’re diabetic even desiring a Coke can be unhealthy. The point is: wanting is not far from craving, coveting, possessing.
Having an addictive personality, I am especially vulnerable to my desires. Thankfully, I rarely act on them…at least not the material ones. Truth be told, my wife is the shoppaholic. For her, shoes fill far more than closet space. Something is going on that makes her want what she doesn’t have or even need.
This, then, is the crucible. Not only in my marriage and (I suspect) countless others but in life. The thought anchors this blog. Drives my vocation. Why do we want what we don’t have, let alone need? One reason (albeit a minor one) is advertising: We make you want what you don’t need! But the pilot light is on in all of us. Desire burns 24/7. Advertising merely fans the flame.
In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry advertising is the devil’s hand maiden.
Ironically, my father was referring to none of the above when he made his comment. It was more of a warning: once you buy that second home, son you’re going to be spending the rest of your life and money tending to it. Possessions possess you.
Indeed it does, but that is a topic for another blog. Mine is ostensibly about advertising, where obsession precedes possession!