Yesterday evening one hundred and thirty people biked from our agency to a cinema to view in its unfiltered entirety our reel of work from 2016. An annual tradition.
There was this, for Russia:
And this, for Europe:
And a lot more besides that has yet to be released into the public domain.
The journey home gave me time for some reflection, and prompted this thought and suggestion.
Of course our role as advertisers is to sell our clients’ products and help sustain profitable businesses.
I have no issue with that.
But perhaps we have another, not unconnected agenda too.
Now I personally cringe at the sight of brands exploiting real human suffering and division and indulging in empty virtue-signaling in the name of making themselves cool or salving the guilt-ridden egos of adfolk.
It does nothing in the world other than to demonstrate that there is absolutely no aspect of life and culture that advertising will not exploit. And how utterly detached so many of us are from the real lives of real people.
But that evening’s viewing made me think that along the road to flogging stuff, we are also given (more often than we might think) a precious opportunity.
To illuminate the better side of ourselves.
Amidst the anxiety-inducing 24-7 rolling news cycle, the filter bubbles resounding to the sound of mutually uncomprehending rage, and the techno-info-entertainment-media complex’s unending efforts to steal our attention with mindless pap… that feels like a small (let’s not get carried away with ourselves) but welcome contribution in the world.
A brief but valuable respite.
A vote of confidence in those we really serve – ordinary people.
A reminder that perhaps you, we, me, they, us… don’t suck.
And that we might actually be pretty awesome human beings after all.
The journey home was short.
And so, necessarily, is this thought.
I think it was the English composer Sir William Walton who when asked how he composed, answered – when not composing the piece became unbearable. Life and work in 2016 ensured a draft manuscript remained neglected. My purpose is hardly so noble as Walton’s. But I am finding that Adland’s idiocies, complexities, and delights are beginning to make not seeing this project through to closure ever more frustrating. So – less blogging, and more writing this year.
It’s the first working week of a new year for me.
A good enough reason as any to revisit and recommit once again to an old resolution.
Because here’s the thing.
Look past all the rhetoric, the confident future gazing, the self-congratulation, the slick case studies, the awards, the campaigns du jour, the smartass blogs, the authoritative keynote speeches… and it’s plain that the vast majority of what we produce as an industry isn’t brilliant or even good.
Most of what our industry puts out into the world is banal, mediocre, unremarkable.
Some of it is much, much worse – patronizing, insulting, hectoring, polluting, stupid, intrusive, toxic.
Perhaps this is not surprising at all.
Perhaps advertising simply conforms to what the American science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon termed ‘Sturgeons Revelation’ (or ‘Sturgeon’s Law’ as it is often referred to). As he put it in in the March 1958 issue of Venture magazine:
I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”
All that effort, all that ingenuity, all that inspiration, all those years perfecting one’s craft, all those long hours, all that Powerpoint, all those brilliant rationales, all those conference calls… all those missed school plays and cancelled dates, all those postponed vacations, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those promises broken, all those passions never pursued…
To produce crap?
I confess I know from years of firsthand experience that producing crap takes almost as much time and effort as producing stuff that’s good or better.
So it strikes me that we have a choice.
We can choose to make those sacrifices in the name of producing crap, or in the name of producing something good.
As a new year begins, as we switch the laptops back on, as we resume the rhythms of the working week, picking up unfinished tasks and starting fresh ones… as clients, as creatives, as account people, as planners, let’s all say No to crap.
Crap conversations. Crap teamwork. Crap ambitions. Crap expectations. Crap standards. Crap objectives. Crap briefs. Crap advice. Crap feedback…
Because if we aren’t going to reclaim more of our lives, then at the very least we should maintain (or reclaim) our standards.