An advertising manifesto (not like those shitty ones that are basically three quarters of all ads these days): part 1
So here we are (or aren’t, depending on furloughs and redundancies): advertising has, along with so many other industries, hit the skids.
How long will the recovery take? What will it look like? How many chairs will be left to sit on when the music stops?
And let’s face it: will there even be a ‘recovery’, as in a return to something we might consider to be ‘normal’?
I apologise for starting this off in a sombre tone, but we’re going to have to get used to the fact that there’s still a long way left to fall. People (including us), whether employed or otherwise, are unlikely to blow a week’s wages on a dress, or take on the payment terms of a new Audi anytime soon. And if there’s less spending, there’s less reason and money to advertise.
Let me give you an insight into my own circumstances: I’ve been freelancing almost constantly for the last couple of years. There’s been the odd quiet week or a few, but I’ll be good until at least 2021.
But what lies beyond that? Will the tightening belt eventually squeeze me out of my home? I’m optimistic enough to think I’ll be OK, but I have no idea what society will look like over the next year or two, so my ad industry crystal ball is equally foggy.
If you’ve got it harder than I do, I have a lot of sympathy and a fair amount of empathy. I’ve been there relatively recently, trying to build up a freelance network and an ethical ad agency in a non-advertising city, where I’d only ever worked at a single, highly secretive company. Thinking back to the second half of 2017 gives me the shudders. If you’re in that kind of place right now, I’d love to give you the kind of hug that’s pretty much illegal right now.
I won’t be so trite as to say it’ll all work out, or suggest you learn coding or ballroom dancing as you wait for the other thousand shoes to drop. But I do have a plan to improve an industry that’s spent the last ten years getting worse (hey, maybe you’re even a bit relieved to take a break from it!).
Back in the fifties, when Bill Bernbach was fomenting his Creative Revolution, things were also shit. There was a post-war austerity (including rationing for jam, sugar and coffee, all the way up to 1959 in the UK), and a grimly traditional, patronising and dull advertising industry to cut through.
But that revolution managed to make things cool, fun, attractive and intelligent. It refused to take crap for an answer and instead ushered in decades of better work that added to people’s daily enjoyment.
Yes, there was still plenty of dross, but at least there was a beacon of hope; a flag to line up behind; a new way that turned an entire industry upside-down.
Now, with the industry routinely cranking out millions of turds a day, but with an inevitable and fundamental change in process driven by a virus, it must be the the perfect time for a second Creative Revolution.
And the great thing is, we have giants’ shoulders on which to stand. If Bill and Helmut and Bob and the other Bob and Julian managed to do it when there was neither the blueprint nor the will, we have no excuse.
Someone much cleverer than me once pointed out that he or she who shapes the future gets to predict it. That means you. Yes, you. You. Not someone else. You. You. You. Fucking you. YOU!
But I get it: you might be thinking: “Jesus Christ. I’ve just been furloughed from Agency X, a place I fucking hated, and now this douchebag wants me to embark on a slog of indeterminate length to see if I can save an industry I don’t even like. Fuck that noise.”
Or you might be thinking: “I’m bricking it right now. I still have a job at Agency Z, but that could end at any moment. The idea that I’m going to follow the suggestions of this twatpiece to stick my neck out when I’m lucky to still be able to buy nappies for little Maisie is laughable, and not in a good way.”
Sure, sure, sure. I think those things myself, even though I don’t know anyone called Maisie. But then I also think other things. Things like: “I hope I don’t limp to the end of my working life spending ten hours a day making shitty fucking decks for the dubious purpose of spinning the wheels of capitalism a little faster.” And: “Advertising is fucking awful. Part of that situation is down to me.”
I’d like to get to the finish line and look back at the trail I blazed; at the people whose days improved because they saw the funny, witty, surprising shit I inspired and/or made; at the copywriters and art directors who became oddly proud of their industry and output, all because of me.
Is it an ego-trip? Partly, but isn’t everything, deep down? Isn’t there a better way to spend your time? Maybe, but if you solve this one, the extra happiness, satisfaction, enjoyment and respect, reaching far and wide, will be worth it.
Isn’t it going to be so difficult, it’s basically pointless? As a general rule, doing big, significant, world-altering things is harder than, say, flicking through Instagram, but Bernbach created DDB ad by ad. This isn’t one giant mountain that must be formed in a week; it’s going to be a winding road of steps both forwards and backwards.
So where do you start? Call up your most talented friends right now and tell them you’re all going to build the best fucking agency anyone’s ever seen.
But if you’re not quite ready for that, just read the second part of this post tomorrow.