When I was watching the Droga/Henry/Hegarty/Trott talk last week I was struck by an unsettling notion. It was during Dave Trott’s section where he said that it takes a lot of work to be brave, and if you don’t think (your work) is going to run, oftentimes you can’t be bothered. He then mentioned this mug:
Which got me thinking: how many jobs are there where the vast majority of your output is destined for the dustbin? And what are the consequences of that?
In the early part of my career I worked at an agency where several teams were put on each brief, so you knew that unless you won the client’s favour (often by doing the work that was easiest to buy rather than the work that was most original/different/exciting) your efforts would be for nothing (I explored this somewhat in last Monday’s post). Then I moved to another agency (AMV BBDO), where it was pretty much one brief, one team, so it was far more likely your work would run, partly because of the lack of competition and partly because, in those early days, the work was almost always sold first time. God, it was great working like that.
Then as more clients required more work the lottery re-emerged and the cannon fodder system gradually took over.
But what does that do to the working mentality of the ad creative? I think that in the beginning you accept that the odds are against you, particularly on a big brief where you might be up against a senior team who know how to play the game a bit more and might get their work closer to the front of the queue by fair means or foul. Then you get to the middle point of your career, where you accept as normal the fact that your work is likely to die, leaving you with a thicker skin and a greater capacity to roll with the punches. Then you might get into the senior ‘know how to play the game’ position, where your work could well be better, but you might also be able to position it in such a way that it’s more likely to be what the client chooses. But equally you could well be a bit jaded by that stage, with a couple of decades of crapshoots weighing down your poor, delicate soul.
18 years in I definitely find myself to be more sanguine about the longer odds of getting work made (partly because I’m a CD, so the work tends not to be ‘mine’, although I certainly invest myself greatly in the hoped-for success of anything I approve), but having Mr. Trott put it so bluntly does make me wonder if the effects of the expendable reality are more substantial and insidious than I realised.
Doesn’t it seem to make sense that you will put less effort into something you think has a greater chance of dying? Isn’t that just human nature? Whether you’re aware of it or not, isn’t there a likelihood that you’ll ease off the throttle just a little bit? Go to the pub just a little earlier? Live through some version of the message on the mug?
Then again, as Kate Moss so perceptively put it, that’s the job. The screenwriting book I read a couple of weeks ago was bursting at the seams with similar tales of burning the midnight oil in the production of thousands of bons mots, only for them to be read by no more than five people before dying in a slush pile somewhere. They are playing far worse odds than advertising creatives, with thousands of scripts vying to be one of the hundred or so that get made each year. They also go though the same seemingly arbitrary changes of heart that kill a piece of work they were sure was going to win that Oscar, but for them the hopes are higher, as are the stakes. On any produced film there will have been many different and discarded versions of the script that finally got made, each one 100 pages of crushed dreams. If we think we’ve got it bad, there are worse situations out there.
The same goes for novelists. How many millions of words sit rejected and unread in the trash cans of callous and tasteless agents and publishers? And musicians, with their hours of hopeful demos cast aside by unfeeling record company philistines. Lord knows how many unwanted works of art sit unseen and unloved in studios across the world.
But, y’know, you can let it get to you, or you can listen to Young MC, get back on that layout pad and tell yourself that tomorrow is indeed another day: