Over the weekend, my wife and I spent a fair bit of our disposable income—our money that hasn’t yet, by a corrupt tax-code, been transferred from us to our nation’s burgeoning billionaire class—to attend the 20th Annual New Yorker Festival.
(We hear a lot in our business these days about brand activations and experiental happenings and sundry events. I usually scoff at such crap because to my jaded eyes they are usually long on stunt and short on brand affinity. When a bank builds a giant gingerbread house or The Economist magazine doles our mini-non-meat sausages on the street, I don’t get what they’re trying to do or say other than ‘look at me look at me, I’m cool and insouciant.’ Mostly to me such activities make brands look desperate. They’re too intrusive and they’re trying too hard. What’s more—they’re coopting things, or trying to, that should be left the fuck alone by commerce and commercialism. Keep your names off my stadia, leave my public theater alone, and for god’s sake, take your logos off every square inch of every sporting event including the uniforms and, I’d guess, jock straps of everyone who grunts for a living.)
But I digress.
Back to the New Yorker Festival. My wife and I went to three talks on Saturday. The first was a conversation with cookbook author and cooking show star, Ina Garten. The middle was a substantive chat between the wise and erudite Pete Buttigieg and the New Yorker’s equally-brilliant editor, David Remnick. Finally we saw Guggenheim Fellow, Jane Mayer interview the warm, passionate and passionately liberal Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
The talks were held in the vaulted 1,000-seat auditorium of the Ethical Culture School on Central Park West at 63rd Street. Over one of the doorways in the building, I noticed some words that I liked. They made me think a bit—about life and our lives in advertising.
The words were simple. And like simplicity when it’s really good, profound. They read, “Deed before Creed.”
Right now at work I am up to my pupik in what is probably the most challenging and demanding assignment of my long and, yes, storied but dreadful career. I am working on ads that with any luck will help a company recover from a series of terrible disasters. Again, with any luck, in just a few more turns of the earth, the ads will be in major newspapers around the world.
I am, right now, preparing myself for the criticism and rebuke these ads will receive, at the very least in the advertising community. Purposefully so, they haven’t been designed and written to do anything that wins the acclaim from people who leave their offices for weeks at a time to drink blue drinks and judge the “creativity” of work.
I could give a rat’s ass about creativity for creativity’s sake.
I have a client who has a major, existential problem on their hands. And I am working with a small group of colleagues and clients (and lawyers and lawyers and lawyers) to solve it.
Going back a few hundred words, I have a deed to do. The right thing for this particular client at this particular time. The creed of cool, of creativity, of tricks and adornment have nothing to do with the deed of helping a client who is in trouble.
This is not to say, I have abandoned my craft, my skill, my creativity and my integrity. I am applying liberal quantities of those things, but only in ways that advance the deed required of me.
I think the advertising industry has become one giant selfie. Advertising isn't meant to be a game of "Look at me. Look at me." We are not meant to be more interested in our own swagger and our own brand than in the brands who pay us.
We are in a bad, unethical way.
It must change.