Today is it – my last day at an ad agency. When I was in college, I dreamed of being at an ad agency. I thought there would be nothing cooler. I have been privileged to work at ad agencies for the past 7 years of my life. I’ve loved it. I’ve hated it. I’ve met some of the coolest people I’ve ever known. I’ve met some characters. I’ve had clients call me screaming (and swearing). I’ve had clients call me overjoyed. I’ve seen some of the best work get scrapped. I’ve canceled amazing media plans. I’ve worked on teams where we negotiated amazing media programs with amazing media partners that had perfect synergy with our brands. It’s a cool industry. And at the end of the day, ads that are the blood, sweat and tears of teams of people inundate you in your home, at work, in your car, at the airport. So many of us are annoyed by ads. Entertained by ads. Moved to take action (positively or negatively) by ads. It’s cool to hate ads, but tell me you haven’t heard of a Sham-Wow or Tide or Toyota or Apple. Tell me you don’t get just a little excited about the ads in the Superbowl.
Advertising is an art and it’s a science. It’s communication at its best when it entertains and informs in :30 seconds or less, in a page or less, on a billboard on the highway, on a screen in an elevator. It’s communication at its best when you remember the brand, the product. And then you try it. And you buy it. And you recommend it. It’s at its best when you feel that you discovered the product and become a spokesperson.
Advertising is an industry founded entirely ideas and dreams and thoughts.
The next time you experience an ad in a magazine, on TV, on a website, on the radio, on a billboard, on a bus, in an airport, on a train, on your cell phone – know that it started as an idea. An idea that was probably hatched under the hot lights of a conference room. Probably after hours. By people running only on Diet Coke and Red bull and candy from the candy jar next to accounting. And they draw from their experiences and their lives – the ones they have and the ones they wish they had. And at 7:30 pm on a Tuesday, while memorizing the features and benefits and positioning statement of a product, someone speaks up and says, “Hey guys, I have an idea…” And maybe that brave soul is a senior manager or an intern or a creative or a media person or a brand manager. But it doesn’t matter because whoever has the idea, has the floor.
And this brave soul talks about a trip they took to a place they love and how it made them feel. And then they talk about how that imagery would be a perfect visual analogy for the product in front of them. And it ties in perfectly with this idea for a tag line that they have. And then… And then there is a point where someone else, inspired, takes the hand-off on the idea and they build on it – I get what you’re saying – it totally speaks to our target audience – it would work perfectly in these media options – we could shoot it in Argentina or Colorado or Iowa – and the vision for the execution and the next steps pull together like a snowball picking up speed rolling down a mountain.
And this avalanche of thinking takes over these ad agency folks lives. Pictures are tacked up over their offices. Media vendors are contacted, more ideas are brainstormed. Plans. Negotiations. More late nights. More lunches at their desks.
And one day, you’re making dinner and watching the 6 pm news. And an ad for a car or a coffee maker or a shoe or a phone is in the first position of the commercial pod and the imagery reminds you of something you loved as a child. A vacation you took, a place you went to – and you smile. And you think, hmm, a new … interesting. And maybe you buy it or maybe you don’t.
That is advertising, when it goes well.
There are so many days when it doesn’t go well. There are so many times when my eyes were bloodshot looking at a spreadsheet or a flowchart or a presentation. There were many nights when I ate lunch and dinner at my desk. When I drank more than 50 oz of diet coke. When I walked out to the last car in the last row of the parking lot, lit by a solitary street light.
But it always felt worth it when it worked.