Why I do what I do

I’m not one of those copywriters who is just dabbling in advertising until I can publish the next great American novel. I’m not even working on one, and have no plans to. I have no interest in writing a screenplay. Conceptually speaking TV bores me. Modern art makes me laugh. The point is advertising isn’t some sort of back up career. I looked at every creative job out there and I chose this one. Why?

Well it probably has something to do with that fact that fiction, in general, usually feels like a fluffy, imaginary waste of time. And art, for the most part, is as self-indulgent and pretensions as a glorified personal cat blog, framed and hung on the wall. (Some artist out there probably thinks that’s actually not a bad idea).

Yes, like a true ad man I look at the novel and think to myself, it’s been done to death, what’s next? The same goes for movies, TV, and music. (Some art feels slightly original but it loses points for being massively pointless. On the other hand, art that has a point is always just bad.)

Ideas are what got me into this business.

The chance to do something that’s never been done before (even though everything has been done). To be a part of a creative class that doesn’t limit itself to one stale medium, but looks at the world as a great big giant idea canvas. The freedom to make websites, board games, new products, ring-tones, and to plaster your creations on bus shelters and buildings. And to do work that doesn’t take itself too seriously (at least shouldn’t). That’s what got me into this business.

When I think about it. I’m probably more of an idea man than an ad man. But advertising is the best home for people like me. And I love it. However, if I ever find some magical place that will pay me to come up with ideas all day and then shell out the cash to produce them, with the sole purpose of making people smile––you’ll know where to find me.


Christopher said...

Reading your comments about copywriting, neatly sums up what I love about the kind of conceptual art I like and have engaged in: idea driven, unique, and with the power to change perceptions. Sure its self indulgent, but I anything worth doing, is.

M Guy said...

Logical fallacies aside ("fiction, in general, usually feels like a fluffy, imaginary waste of time"?!) it seems to me that if you consider the last ten ads you wrote or your top ten favorite ads of all time they will be dripping with influence from movies, literature, fine art and TV.
An earlier post from one of this blogs contributors claims that the VW commercial "Big Day" is one of the best spots ever - what is "Big Day" but a blatant rip off "The Graduate". The game of spot the influence could go on ad infinitum.
I'm sure that you could write a post that points out that 99% of advertising has been "done to death", is "fluffy" and a "waste of time". The medium is not the problem - the problem is that it's difficult to have innovative and creative ideas & even more difficult to get them made.
Advertising may be one of the easiest ways to get ideas created - but the challenge is to be creative in whatever medium you work in and constantly be searching for the innovative ideas outside of your medium; for instance what the good folks at Penguin have done with We Tell Stories. Or on the topic of influence the very funny Wildly Popular 'Iron Man' Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Film by The Onion.

Littlejohn said...

M Guy - I was waiting for a response like yours. First off, let's not confuse logical fallacies with opinions. But that aside, you make some great points.

You'll notice in my post I never said I got into advertising to make mini 30-second films. I actually didn't even say advertising is why I got into advertising.

I can't disagree with you that the majority of advertising is influenced by art and film, fiction and culture. And obviously, I'm not going to completely discredit the geniuses that have given the world masterpieces of fiction and film and art. I'm just saying I don't find the current state of those creative mediums very stimulating. And advertising, while perhaps not as romantic, offers a greater opportunity to be inventive, and original and fresh. Is my work always those things? No. But I go into the office every morning because it could be.

The creative endeavors you site are indeed quite interesting, I applaud anyone who is pushing their creative work into new unchartered territory.

My point is mainly that I think advertising has a greater arsenal of idea ammunition: Design, illustration, writing, film, flash, radio, web, music, street art, etc. And that there's a collaborative energy of people from different fields and backgrounds working together, which creates a very fertile ground for fresh thinking and new ideas. More so than any job I have found. And that's why I work in advertising.

A novelist or a film maker could just as easily write a post about how advertising is shallow and fleeting. And they would probably be right. To each his own.

M Guy said...

I don't mean to imply that advertising is shallow and fleeting. I do find advertising an interesting creative industry. (To quote Joshua Ferris "Creative creatives creating creative creative.") Film and music have their respective "indie" scenes; TV has always had those who took advantage of public access, and now of course there's YouTube; novelists have always been grossly independent. But as far as I know there isn't any independent advertising being done. (Except maybe UGC campaigns: "Make your won Nike ad!" Which constitutes its own post concerning the industry leeching inspiration from users. A case might also be made for pro bono work, which is why it is quite frequently the most creative advertising around.)

Writers, directors and artists don't have the luxuries of we advertisers: salary, insurance, comped drinks, per diem, free crap. It stands to reason that some great percentage of them are creating for the sole purpose of communicating something they consider to be important.

Without brand managers, budgets and creative briefs independent creators of the arts, ostensibly, are free to create the most original, innovative works around. And with the removal of the old gatekeepers and the cost of producing a film hovering around $10,000-the cost of publishing or recording even lower-there is no better time to create your wildest ideas. The wonder of new media have made design, illustration, writing, film, flash, radio, web, music, street art, etc available to the average 14 year old. (Don't miss Ze Frank's show on this point.)

I'm obviously not saying anything new here. My question is: What idea would ________ come up with and produce independently?

Littlejohn said...

I agree, we are the spoiled step-children of the creative world. Although I'm sure we work longer hours (some of us.)

"What idea would ________ come up with and produce independently?"

I'm not sure I understand the question. What ideas would I make? What does the blank stand for?

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