Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A brief case for sanity.

When I was a kid my father, like most of the fathers in the neighborhood in which I was raised, went to work every day carrying a leather attache-case. Since my closest relations were in the business-case business, growing up I spent some time thinking about these cases.

Though they were built to look good and last, function came before form. They were meant to organize you and help you carry the things you needed to transport to and from work in a paper-based world. Inside there were expanding envelopes for paper, a place for pens, a place for the “Times,” and a place for your keys.

They had intrinsic value—that is, an inherent worth related to the function they performed.

Around the time everything in the world changed—say 1973—my old man put aside his leather briefcase, the functional the type he had been schlepping for twenty years. Someone had given him a vinyl Louis Vuitton attache. 

I remember looking at it, inspecting it, wondering about it. I grew up in an era of wide-lapelled polyester clothing, imitation wood paneling, and vinyl roofs on cars. Yet this Louis Vuitton briefcase was among the ugliest things I had ever seen in my life.

I asked my father about it and he said it was very expensive—about five times the price of the bags my cousins made. And the LV initials design, which to this day I still find detestable, was considered the height of fashion.

This new attache of my father’s had extrinsic value. It’s worth assigned by external factors such as style and prestige.

I think about my old man’s brief-case transition a lot when I think about how the world and the advertising industry has changed.

How we have become motivated more by extrinsic value, less by intrinsic value. A $20 pair of jeans costs $300, torn virtually to shreds.

More and more we are driven by external accolades and recognition. More and more we are motivated by “becoming famous.” More and more awards have become the measure of all things.

To be clear about it, we seem to care more about what others think about our work than we care about how our work helps those people and companies paying us for it. As Bernbach said:

“Our job is to sell our clients’ merchandise…not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. 

“Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.

“I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to choose the plain looking ad that is alive and vital and meaningful, over that ad that is beautiful but dumb.”

Much like my father’s briefcase.


By the way, some weeks ago, in my travels I stumbled upon a book published by DDB back in 2011, called "Bill Bernbach said..." It's about five-inches square and only 49 pages long.

I found it here for about the price of two cups of extrinsically-valued coffee. It's right now on my desk, hidden beneath a ream or two of paper lest someone steal it, or worse, ask to borrow it.


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