It ain’t what you do, it’s the why that you do it

If you saw someone knock a T-shirt off a shop display then walk away you might be inclined to pick it up and replace it, but why?

If you want the place to look a bit tidier for other people, or you want to save the shop assistant from having to do it, or you want to avoid people treading on the T-shirt and ruining it, then great.

If you want to make the other person feel bad, or you want to make yourself feel all virtuous, or you want to show the other people nearby what an ace person you are, then not so great.

Same action; different motives. Some rather lovely; some an expression of the little inadequacies in your head.

What about winning Wimbledon, and indeed the training it takes to do that?

If you love tennis for its own sake, or you want to inspire people to fulfil on their possibilities, or you want to keep testing your abilities at a higher level to see what you can be capable of, then that’s just dandy.

If you hate your dad and you want to show him you’re better than he’ll ever be, or you have a deep hole of misery in your soul from when you were abused as a child and the adulation from the crowd can temporarily reduce it, or you want the stability that comes from the prize money because you never quite feel safe, then that’s not so fine.

Yes, there may be other benefits that come from actions that exacerbate existing damage or make a single person feel bad, but the holes will never be filled. The cycle will continue. No amount of success or acts of (supposed) kindness will heal the wounds.

It might be worth bearing this in mind when we look at things that make little or no sense in the advertising world. For example, I can’t believe anyone still tacks pre-roll ads to the beginning of YouTube clips. We’re all consumers. We all hate the companies that do this. Why bother? A media buyer that recommends pre-roll might truly believe that the client is getting their message in front of the right eyes because TV is dead and this is a great way to target people with greater precision. Or they might simply be going along with the prevailing fashion that will deliver some KPIs that are bullshitty enough to keep them in their job, or get them a raise. And that might make mummy proud, or lead to the Audi A8 that will show those bastards at school who said they’d never amount to anything.

On the flip side, why is the client saying yes? She watches YouTube and hates the preroll just like the rest of us. Why would her company escape the hatred by doing the same thing? Does she want to just keep her head down and hope no one notices that she was promoted too soon? Is she scared of a boss that would prefer her to do something reliable, the hatred of which is impossible to truly measure? Or does she really love her ad so much that she thinks people will want to see it and therefore no skipping will occur?

Do you want that helicopter shot because you think it’ll improve the ad’s chances of selling product? Or do you want to ride in a chopper and tell your mates a story that makes you look good?

Do you refuse to work on that fast food company’s account because you are genuinely troubled by the wages they pay their staff? Or do you want to feel superior and tell your boyfriend how lovely and principled you are?

Do you work in advertising because it pays fairly well and makes you feel all gooey inside when you work with famous photographers or see your work on TV? Or are you genuinely interested in solving problems for brands that are indirectly paying you to do so?

I think most of us end up on autopilot about why we do things, but it might be worth asking those questions occasionally. And if the answers that come back don’t seem right you might want to consider altering your behaviour until they do.