Having interviewed around 30 people for my podcast, I’m getting a sense of certain things as far as 2017 advertising is concerned.
I’m not going to go into all of them – life’s too short, and anyway everything is available on the podcasts in a form that hasn’t been filtered through my subjective brain.
But I am going to focus on one general point: we live and work in an age when there are more opportunities in more media than ever before. Isn’t that fan-fucking-tastic? Kind of. On the surface that’s a giant upside, but for some reason the work is worse than it’s been for decades and people in the industry don’t seem to be very happy about this glorious proliferation of chances to tell the rest of the planet about washing powders, cars and Pop Tarts.
The good bit is indeed good: having a bigger palette from which to paint and a bigger canvas upon which to splash that paint can only be a GOOD THING©. Alas, weirdly enough, it’s also the cause of some new SHIT THINGS©.
(Having said that, there’s no reason to get all depressed. After I wade through the poo, I end on an positive note…)
Anyway, here are some good things and their less good consequences:
- Loads of different media in which to work. Yes, on the surface that seems like a brilliant opportunity to be creative in different ways; to stretch and explore; to create artful graffiti instead of wiping poo on the walls. But the problems are legion: back in ‘the day’, when you only had to make press, poster, TV and radio ads, one team could do them all and one person could CD that team. Now you have to have digital, social, experiential, branded content and that jazz, and although one team might be able to manage it all from a conceptual standpoint, they probably can’t do so in the time allotted. So they need a few more people to help and those people are likely to be young, cheap and (at the time they’re briefed) not yet very good at their jobs. So the quality of work gets diluted and (here’s the real kicker) so does the money to pay for it. It’s simple maths: £100 between two people is more for each person than £100 between eight people. Then you’ve got the CD, or rather CDs, or rather ECDs. The modern ECD can’t possibly oversee all that stuff, so he must delegate some of it to other CDs, some of whom will be equally important ECDs in the digital, social, experiential or branded content agencies on the client’s roster. Of course, this splits the money up and leaves us in a situation where a big team in 2017 earns the same as one in 1987 (and I’m neither joking nor exaggerating. £100k-150k is the sum I’m talking about). But in 1987 you could buy a house in Chelsea with three years’ wages. Now you’d need 33 years’ wages. So now there are indeed lots of great opportunities, but also lots of people with whom to share your salary, and the ownership and/or control of your campaign.
- There are lots more jobs (I think). As a corollary to point 1 the wider range of things that are now required means that more people must be employed to do those things. And although I’m sure that many companies have simply asked the same number of people to work harder, there are definitely people on the creative side of things who weren’t there in 1996, or 2006. But are they just different versions of what advertising used to need? That’s a hard one to answer. Digital/Experiential/UX staff might simply have replaced some copywriters and art directors. The other thing that might well have happened is an acceleration of ageism. With so many more new, cheap youngsters arriving at the bottom of the pyramid, the top has probably shrunk. ECDs might even want to keep the older members of the department on, but when they look at budgets, work required and headcount, something has to give, and £200k worth of senior team might well be the most obvious version of that ‘something’. This is another manifestation of the requirement for quantity over quality that seems to have increased in recent years.
- More opportunities all over the place. This is slightly different to the possible increase in the number of jobs. Have you noticed that every company on Earth thinks it can be an ad agency right now? That’s odd, isn’t it? Production companies, media agencies, post houses, clients… They all think that they can offer ‘creative solutions’ along with whatever else they used to provide. Does that mean what ad agencies do is easy to replicate? Is the work that comes out of these places any good? Does the (I assume) financial saving justify using people who are new to the whole game? And does this whole movement devalue advertising? After all, if any old Tom/Dick/Harriet can come up with a viable agency then what’s the point of the good and/or expensive ones?
- Globullshit®. Ads are now running everywhere. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Your copy line might be running in Singapore, France or the Democratic Republic of Congo! Wait till your mum finds out! And for some brands that can mean good things, after all, most winners of the Cannes Grand Prix for film could run all over the world, and some do. But that’s the top of the top of the top of the top of the top. For everyone else it’s the death of a thousand comments about cultural differences and language barriers that means reducing your laser-guided brilliance to the drunken pull of a shotgun trigger. But money talks, and making one ad for 7.5 billion people is much cheaper than making 45 ads for the same audience. Does that compromise the quality? Of course. Does anyone really care? Maybe, but do they even know if they’ve compromised the quality? I’d argue not. One person’s 7/10 is another person’s 6/10. And if people don’t know or care, why would they pay to solve a problem they don’t think exists?
So where does that leave us? I think there are still a lot of people out there who got into advertising to do great work and have a good time. The work has certainly become less great overall, but that doesn’t mean greatness is impossible, so the carrot of wowing the world is still there. But chasing after a smaller, mankier carrot is obviously not as tempting a proposition as chasing a big, fat, juicy one.
Has the amount of fun changed? That’s harder to say. I’m sure some of the younger people getting into the industry still find it very interesting and enjoyable, and I’d imagine for many of the others it still beats digging roads or emptying the dog shit bin in parks. But I’d be a lying bastard if I told you that was the case for everyone. I’ve had a few chats recently (not podcasts) with creatives of my vintage who are just fed up with it all. Is that because twenty years of doing the same thing has left them bored and jaded? Or is it because the job really isn’t as free and fun as it used to be?
So what, if anything, is the solution? That’s up to everyone who wants to stay in the business. You can still do the kind of thing you did in the mid-nineties, or you can get with the fascinating new shizzle that seems to be all over the place. You can work at JWT, or you can work at Framestore, or Apple, or set up your own place and do everything exactly as you would like.
There really is not a shortage of options. They may not all pay what they used to, or send 90-second, million-pound cinema briefs across your desks on a regular basis, but those horses left town a long time ago. Just tighten your belt a little, decide what really floats your monkey and work out how to do it. I know that’s easier said that done, but so is literally everything.