About 100 years ago when I was in college, I had my mind set on becoming an English professor. One crisp Fall afternoon, I was walking across the still-leafy quad and I was approached by a student. He stuck a microphone in my face and asked me a question.
"I'm with the college radio station. What do you think of Greeks?"
I was waist-deep in the Greeks at the moment, bouncing between Aristophanes, Euripedes and, mostly, Homer. I answered as plainly as I could.
"I'm wary of them," I said, "Even when they're bearing gifts."
It didn't occur to me until hours later that the reporter was asking about Sigma Nu, Delta Psi, and Kappa Tau.
Some years after that, I got a job on the 4PM to midnight shift as a cashier at a downtown Chicago liquor store. Adjacent to the old barn of a place and across the street, were a few bars that sold, along with their liquor, women of dubious repute. The way the skin trade worked in Chicago--the way they got around the cops was, you could buy a bottle of cheap whiskey for $150, and a woman came with it. That way, it wasn't prostitution, which was illegal.
Today in advertising, maybe for the last decade or so, there's been a silly and misguided tranche of people who want to create ads "that don't look like ads." They want people to think their Doritos commercial is entertainment. They want to think they are doing work on a higher-order, that it's culturally relevant and so much fun you'll want to engage with it.
Like my Greeks and prostitutes above, you can call these things what you will. You can concoct all sorts of subterfuges, but as for fooling people--there's only you, and probably your mom.
If it's in a commercial break, no one is fooled.
If it's surrounded by 14 other ads, no one is fooled.
If it's mixed too loud and ends with a logo, no one is fooled.
If it says, 'professional driver, closed course,' no one is fooled.
Just as a whore is a whore and a frat is a frat, an ad is an ad.
Our business is dying.
For many financial reasons but mostly by self-delusion. Mostly because people are embarrassed to do the work we're paid to do. Which is to impart useful information in an executionally brilliant way.
Instead, we're ashamed.
We want to puff out our chests, instead, and say we are influencing culture.
Everyone knows you're making an ad.
Sure, I wish I were writing the next Moby Dick or Citizen Kane or even an episode of the Dick Van Dyke show.
But I'm not.
I make ads.
Ads that treat people with respect.
That try to help them make smart decisions.
I don't manipulate people.
Or make them buy things they don't need.
I help them learn about things they didn't know about.
The sooner you breathe that in, the better off you'll be.
The two questions are--
1. Are you being honest with yourself and your profession?
2. Are you making good ads that help people and brands or pretentious crap that never runs for coked-up juries?
Advertising is only something to be embarrassed about if you make embarrassing ads.
Stop fooling around.
Stop fooling your clients.
Stop fooling yourself.
Make good ads.