By Elyse Ash
I’ve always loved advertising. This passion for jingles and taglines can be traced back to my childhood. I remember being a kid and making up commercials for toothpaste while I brushed my teeth. Or coming up with campaign ideas for Gatorade and Nike as I splashed around the swimming pool. My Uncle Rick worked as a creative director at a big agency in Minneapolis, and I’d insist on calling him to pitch my ideas, even though his agency didn’t even have Gatorade or Nike as clients; a small hiccup in my 7-year-old comprehension of the ad industry.
Now, as a professional copywriter, I’m doing what I always wanted to do. I find this job and this industry exciting, challenging…and also VERY frustrating. Because after six years, I’ve started noticing that this awesome industry has lipstick all over its teeth. So I’ve been collecting reasons why working in advertising is basically The Worst and The Best, all at once.
And here’s where I’ve landed. For now. (I figured it’d be best to start with the depressing stuff and end on a good note? So stick with me.)
Working in Advertising is The Worst:
1. Everything is an Emergency. And Yet—it’s All Totally Meaningless.
If I ever really want to feel like my life has been a complete waste, I’ll talk to one of my friends who has a job that actually matters. My friends who are nurses, doctors, teachers or social workers. When they have a bad day, it means a kid was arrested or someone died. To me, it’s when a deadline is missed or a grammatical error was found in a Tweet. Advertising is just so melodramatic. That color red was one pantone color off? Who cares!? But the crazy-making part is that the client cares, which means your boss cares. So one tiny, dumb-ass mistake can easily get you fired.
2. There’s No Higher Cause. It’s Completely Hollow.
My biggest qualm with advertising is that it requires a lot of hours, sweat, sketchy energy drinks, late nights and ulcers…but it’s rarely for anything noble. It’s usually for schilling clothing, fast food or new televisions. It’s not like you’re working late and sacrificing family time to try to solve world hunger or cure cancer. It’s literally to concept banner ads. Yes, those ads that pop up and that you never click on. Someone spent a lot of time trying to concept, write and design them. How depressing is that?
3. It’s Self-Important.
Advertising thinks it’s sooooooo cool. It knows bands you’ve never heard of. It’s better than you. Smarter. Chic-er. It’s won a ton of awards it just made up for itself. But guess what, no one gives a crap except people IN advertising. Real people doesn’t know the difference between W+K and CP+B? It’s a bunch of meaningless acronyms to 99% of the world. Oh, and just about everyone who works in advertising is a poser—they’re either cynical, frustrated artists or morally bankrupt wannabes who wear fedoras and thrive off of attention and affirmation. We also all have a drinking problem.
4. It’s a Big Fat Liar.
Advertising is a big liar. The words are exaggerated. The images are Photoshopped. Everything about advertising is manipulation, spinning and positioning. Like magic, it’s all about a slight of the hand: Don’t pay attention to that over there, look at this shiny thing. And this shiny thing is going to make you happy and skinny and popular and loved. SO LOVED. YOU NEED THIS THING. YOU LIFE IS NOT COMPLETE.
5. It Takes and Takes and Takes…
Advertising is exhausting. Emotionally, physically, spiritually. You revise and revisit and reshoot and reconcept…it’s a never-ending cycle of edits and client feedback. So by the end, your idea/concept/baby that was so awesome just feels recycled and ridiculous. You put so much work into this thing that doesn’t matter and that doesn’t even end up the way you wanted it in the first place. It’s garbage. You’re garbage! You hate yourself. And on top of that? Once you hit 45, you’re basically too old to work in the industry anymore. All that hard work you did? It’s meaningless now. You’ll get laid off during one of the inevitable rounds of spring cleaning that happen every quarter at some places. So…yeah, hope you have a new, back-up career at 48 to bankroll that expensive, snobby taste you’ve spent the last 25 years developing. That’s pretty easy to do, right? Oy vey…
Working in Advertising is the Best:
1. You Get to Use Your Brain.
My favorite part about working in advertising is that I get to really use my brain. I’m not some mindless drone typing data into an Excel sheet. I get to solve real problems using my mind and my creativity. There is absolutely nothing more exciting to me than this. It’s a total rush! Sure, a fresh creative brief paired with a blank Word document are utterly terrifying, but it’s also exciting in this unbelievable way. Sometimes I’ll have so much fun, I’ll just think: I can’t believe I’m getting paid right now.
2. Sometimes You Can Use Your Power for Good.
Like Spiderman/Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I think about this a lot in our industry. We are in this unique position of having the ability to create messages that speak to thousands of people through our creative work. So it’s important to make sure the message is right for the client, but also right for society. I try my hardest not to make sexist ads. Or ads that project an unattainable image of beauty. I try from the inside out not to create garbage that perpetuates unrealistic standards or that relies on stereotypes. I try and try. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But, it’s a cool position to be in. Plus, every once in a while you get to do great pro-bono work for causes and non-profits you really believe in. And knowing you helped a GOOD organization gain recognition is a great feeling.
3. You Get to Work with Awesome People.
Remember those self-indulgent alcoholic poser assholes I was talking about earlier? Well, they’re also hilarious, creative and brilliant artists. Oh, they’re also really solid friends (at least the ones that don’t try to steal your promotion). So you get to work with really funny people who have the same taste in TV as you. But wait! There’s more! You also get to work with some of the best photographers, illustrators, retouchers, musicians, editors, sound engineers and talent available. I’ve gotten to meet Tom Kelly and a bunch of ex-Twins stars, and I’ve had friends work with huge celebrities, famous directors and other super talented artists. That’s something you wouldn’t get to do if you worked in a million other industries.
4. You Get to See Your Work Come to Life.
There’s something so satisfying about spending endless hours on a project, and then driving by that billboard that completely ruined your birthday. Sure, it’s a long, sometimes agonizing process, but there is a concrete, physical result at the end of all that hard work. Which is pretty awesome. It’s even more awesome when it actually turns out the way you wanted it to (a miracle)! And more awesome still when your friends and family members text you, “I heard your radio spot on the drive into work this morning” or “I took a photo of that cool subway takeover you did!” Totally baller.
5. It’s Fun!
This industry works hard and plays hard. From the foosball and ping pong tables, to the free happy hours and awesome holidays parties, there are some pretty fun perks about this industry. Beyond beer and funky furniture and Macbook Pros…it’s a fun environment to work and play in. It’s hard to be annoyed about making a logo bigger, when I know I get to leave the office early on summer Fridays. And that’s just a fact.
So, ad comrades, am I forgetting anything big? Anything glaring? Being unfair in any way (ha, I’m sure I am)? How do you stay positive in this frequently cynical industry? I’d love your thoughts, tips and suggestions.