Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Dull as dishwater.

After about ninety-thousand years in this god-forsaken business I love so much, I've reached a conclusion I'm surprised I hadn't realized many years earlier.

That is, there are two types of people in agencies.

The far-more-common type waits to be given great  assignments. You know, a "cool" client, adequate-time and a Shutters-worthy budget.

It's the rare bird doesn't wait for great assignments. Instead, she makes every assignment she gets great. She finds something in it, or brings something to it, or thinks about a new technique or an interesting way to "un-boring-ifize" it. She says, in effect, if my name is on it, I will make it good. I will make it the envy of those around me.

Years ago, back in the early 90s, I taught a couple advertising classes at New York's School of Visual Arts. Every week, I had to pick a product or a service and the class would have to do ads on it.

A couple weeks into the semester, there was a small rebellion in the class. I was accused of giving out "bad" assignments. "They're boring," I was told. "No one cares about these things." "They're not fun."

It's not entirely unusual for me to get pissed at rebukes like those. And I got pissed that night.

"Look," I said, "two of the greatest advertising successes of the 80s were for the Yellow Pages and a package-delivery company. The creatives could have looked at those assignments and said they were boring."

I went on, as I so often do.

"When Doyle Dane created Volkswagen, it was an ugly, under-powered German car being sold in America where a fair number of people had been shooting at Germans just a few years earlier. Shitty assignment.

"Avis was a two-bit company, dwarfed by its competitors. Hertz had five-times their budget, five-times the counters, five-times as many cars. Shitty assignment.

"Frank Perdue sold chickens. Shitty assignment."

The sentiment, "There are really no dull subjects, only dull writers," has been attributed to half-a-dozen notables from G.K. Chesterton to Raymond Chandler to someone called George Horace Lorimer.

In the internet-age of fact-checking (i.e. no fact-checking) I could probably simply proclaim that David Ogilvy told it to me one debauched evening over a bottle of 1949 Pol Roger Brut while at Ch√Ęteau de Touffou. But that, even though it might win me the plaudits of upper management at the place at which I toil, wouldn't be right, so I won't.

No matter who said it, I believe it. Robert Caro, for instance, made 4000 pages on LBJ the best thing I've ever read. Shakespearean. Speaking of Shakespeare, read Shakespeare. 

Finally, since baseball season is nearly upon us watch this short film about a hero striking out. Riveting.

BTW, one of the many reasons I don't believe in-house agencies--which seem to be all the rage--will ever achieve what outside agencies can is related to this point. It's not that in-house agencies hire dull people. It's that the discipline of the in-house job means you first and foremost have to "do" the assignment. I've always believed that there's a difference between doing the assignment and doing the job.

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