Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In defense of what we do.

If you know me, or even if you just read Ad Aged, you probably know that I am a third-generation ad person.

My Uncle Sidney founded and ran Philadelphia's largest ad agency (Weightman Advertising) starting around 1945. And my old man rose through the ranks of a large New York agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt, staring 1954. As he was leaving the business in the early 80s, I was just starting my career.

So I have an affinity for the business--an intimacy--that goes back more than 70 years.

I think one of the things that's changed in the business--one of the important but uncommented upon changes--is that we no longer have a clear sense of mission. 

Many people we work alongside of have an active disdain for what we do. Many more feel embarrassed by it. Very, very few, I'm afraid, are proud.

I'm a firm believer that to be successful in any pursuit--whether you're a copywriter or a minor league third-baseman in the Mexican Baseball League, you have to have some sense that what you do has some sort of importance.

Apocrypha has it that when a janitor at Nasa Mission Control was asked what his job was, he replied "I'm helping put men on the moon." Even a simple bricklayer can see himself as building a grand cathedral.

I guess that's a round-about way--a circumlocution if you want to get all deep-dish about it--of saying I believe what we do is important.

Too many people in our industry say advertising interrupts.

If I produce a commercial, I never regard it as an "interruption." I believe it was created to help people. To give them useful information about their world and how to make it better. Same with a print ad.

I always hope to make things interesting, informative and helpful. In fact, I always bristle when politicians call mega-rich moguls "job creators." I consider myself a job creator. I create work that creates demand and that creates jobs.

We have forgotten, it seems, that our job as an industry is to help people and thereby help industry. It's not to win ad beauty contests that show off how clever we are.

Maybe I wouldn't feel that way if I worked on "Hot Pockets," or was doing something squeezably soft for toilet tissue. I guess when, almost three decades ago I worked on a mouthwash, I struggled a bit more with feeling a nobility of purpose.

But still, we must try.

If you don't respect what you do, don't think it serves people or the people who pay you (not just the .1 of the 1% of ad folks who judge awards shows) you owe it to yourself to leave the business. Find something you do find rewarding and worthy of respect.

But I'm sorry.

For me, not every day, not every assignment, not every client, but for me, that's advertising.

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