Advertising can suck.
Not advertising in the sense of a commercial coming on just as the movie was getting good, or half a dozen inserts falling into your lap when you open a magazine. I mean Advertising, the industry, capital “A.”
I’ve been working in advertising for almost 12 years. I’m a copywriter, and in the decade plus since I’ve been a professional advertising writer, I’ve written copy for nearly everything you can name: print, TV, radio, online, direct response, experiential, outdoor… I’ve never done skywriting, even though I’ve suggested it a couple times.
My experience in this industry is that most everything you do is extremely frustrating. Nine out of ten times when you recommend something interesting, engaging or “out of the box” (dear God how I hate that overused term) the client tells you how much they love it, how much they appreciate your thinking… then they take the safe, boring route.
I’ve seen great ideas destroyed by a casual glance. Wonderful concepts die a painful death because another idea is 2% cheaper to produce. Powerful executions that never see the light of day because the client is too cowardly to take even the smallest chance.
I’ve written entire ad campaigns knowing that it was an exercise in futility; that the client was too enamored by the status quo to give my ideas more than a passing glance.
As I’ve gotten more experience and become better at my job, it seems like the clients have pulled back even more, become terrified to try something fresh. I’ve never had a shortage of idea, just a shortage of client with nerve.
And I’m not even talking crazy, wild ideas. Just things that haven’t been done a thousand times before. Something that’s not a print ad with a coupon. A 30-second radio spot. A banner ad that links back to the client’s (worthless) website.
Over the years, my frustration has done nothing but increase. There are days when I can barely stand the monotony of writing the same bullshit claims for the same bullshit products over and over. Days when I’d love to spit in the eye of the sycophantic account managers who are nothing more than order-takers for the client. Times when the sheer banality of my job forces me to get up and walk away from my keyboard before I start to weep.
But then, there are days like today.
Today I sat down with an art director to brainstorm some concepts for a corporate video. I’ve worked with this guy a lot, and we’re good partners. We think along the same lines. Oddly enough, when we work together I often come up with visual ideas, and he comes up with copy ideas.
We walked into a conference room with ZERO ideas. This video is going to come together quickly, and we needed something, and we needed it now.
Ten minutes in, we had the skeleton of an idea. Twenty minutes in, it had flesh and began to breathe. We played off each other’s thoughts, each building on the last, improving with every step. We finished each other’s sentences. We got up and paced the room, getting excited about our shared vision.
This is why I’m still in advertising. This is what makes it all worthwhile.
When you work with someone smart and creative and collaborative to pluck fantastic ideas out of thin air and mold them with your brains to create something amazing… there’s nothing else like it. Nothing for me, at least.
We came up with a truly kick-ass idea. And because we were working against two other teams and didn’t want to walk into the presentation with just one concept… we did it again. The second idea wasn’t as inspired as the first, but it was still damn good.
And they got better as I put them on paper, working out the details, finessing the language, adding in little things that maybe only mattered to us. My partner and I talked about it some more, hammered out some things we didn’t agree on, and they got better yet.
I live for days like this.
Of course, it will never be filmed as we envisioned it today. In fact, it may never go any farther than the client pitch. And even if it does, it’ll be picked apart, watered down and chewed up until only the remains bare only the slightest resemblance to what we dreamed up.
And that’s okay.
Because today was about creating a great idea for a corporate video, and we did that. Big time. Hours later, I’m still jazzed about it. This is why I got into advertising. This is what it’s all about.
I love my job.