The unspoken scale of distaste

If you are a member of a film crew you can work for different rates. Overall, pop promos pay least, then movies, then ads pay the most (of course, there is a lot of grey area here, with people happy to drop their prices for projects they like).

I’ve known that for many years but it wasn’t until yesterday that I wondered why.

We all seem to accept that advertising ought to pay the most because a) There’s supposedly loads of money sloshing around, and b) you have to compensate people for lowering themselves to do it. Even amongst the people in advertising, the people who have chosen and accepted this career to one extent or another, it makes perfect sense that paying someone to help someone else sell something should be compensated more substantially.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to film crews. The rest of us are (theoretically) paid more than our counterparts in other jobs. For example, an advertising art director is paid better than one of a similar standard who works in magazines, but why is that?

Ultimately, salaries are determined by free market forces. If you want someone to do a job then you have to pay them what they wish to earn to do it. There are a lot of non-advertising jobs out there that people in advertising could do, but one of the reasons they don’t do those other jobs is because advertising pays better. Why does advertising pay better? Because an element of the perception of the job is that it is in some way unattractive.

Let’s be honest here: most of us who work in advertising are aware that is is thought of at the upper end of the shame scale. For whatever reason, hawking stuff for other companies is considered by most of the population to be a somewhat tawdry and shallow use of one’s time. Whereas making a pop promo, creating a magazine and lighting a movie are considered to be much closer to ‘art’, and therefore more of a privilege to do, and so less worthy of shame and financial compensation for that shame.

So it seems that there is an unspoken scale of distaste that we are all complicit in. We all accept things as they are, but rarely consciously recognise what it says about us.

There is no real better or worse, or right or wrong about any of this, but the fact that society (including us) has made the decision it has made means we now operate under a yoke of negativity that permeates the whole industry. I’ll bet that many of you consider many parts of your job fun, particularly when compared with working in a call centre, but there’s a cloud hanging over it all that says it’s somehow making up for the fact that you work in an industry that is generally disrespected and disliked.

You might be one of the people who has absolutely no problem with working in advertising, and are in fact very proud of what you do, but you’d still have to be aware of where the job sits in society and what it means.

Having worked in advertising for 16 years I’ve gone through all sorts of different feelings about it, from chest-thumping pride and blinding love to soul-crushing shame and excrement-scented distaste. I’m now very happy with what I do for a living, partly because of the client I work for, partly because of the fantastic people I work with, partly because of the wonderful advertising people I have met, but there’s still that lingering odour that I just can’t quite seem to escape…

And I bet you can smell it too.