Lessons from writing over 180 columns for Talent Zoo
I started writing this column for Talent Zoo in February 2002. And I’ve done a new one every three weeks or so since then. It wasn’t planned that way; I just never stopped writing them.
Back then, I didn’t know what a “blog” was. This was also before MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and 1,000 ways for people to opine and bitch on the web. All I knew was that I could talk about the idiosyncratic parts of the advertising business that Luke Sullivan didn’t mention in “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This,” and I guessed (correctly) that I wasn’t alone in my observations or experiences. It’s quite affirming to see someone write, “Oh, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.”
And while I wasn’t sure anyone would care what I had to say, I also didn’t want to run afoul of anyone. So for a couple of years, I wrote this column anonymously while working full-time at a couple of agencies. (To this day I’m not sure they knew.)
Having written over 180 or so columns about nearly every marketing or advertising-related topic one could think of, I’ve learned quite a bit:
If you speak in absolutes, or say “all agencies are this” or “all clients are that,” you’ll likely piss off someone who’ll go off half-cocked without seeing the larger point. (Shout out to the supposedly venerated college professors who called me insulting names when I inadvertently did that. You know who you are.)
People who bitch or get insulting in a comment, anonymously or not, tend to have their rhetorical fire quickly doused when you respond with calm reason and logic.
I never know what subject will get the most feedback. A controversial topic might not generate any response. But I can definitely say that people fuckin’ love cursing, damnit. One of my columns proved that, because I got more comments on the topic of cursing in the advertising industry than any other I’ve written.
After a while of observing the ad industry, you can see certain patterns emerge. “Hot” agencies go cold. A technology or technique hyped one year gets forgotten the next. The round robin of account reviews gets all too familiar, never-ending, and often pointless. For all that’s changed in the advertising industry, so much never changes. I can go back to some of the columns I wrote 10 years ago and they still feel relevant.
So what’s the point of all this? Why do I (and many other people) feel the need to comment on the nuances of the advertising industry?
Mostly, it’s because advertising is an art. A commercial one, but it is still art. While much of the criticism of the advertising business could be considered navel-gazing, think of the ink and pixels devoted to music, movie, or television criticism. Advertising punditry is minuscule compared to those.
What we make, though, is hugely influential. Modern business, media, and commerce don’t function without it. Even institutions like religion and politics now incorporate the selling techniques we first developed to market soap and smartphones.
The increased ubiquity of advertising and marketing has spawned equal amounts of backlash and criticism. Controversies over ad campaigns, brand tweets, viral stunts, and little mini-scandals arise every week in the ad business. People love to instantly blog and opine on the smallest of infractions. But they’re quickly forgotten by most of the industry, and seldom noticed by the public at large.
It’s the long, continued patterns of brand and industry behavior that we ought to stay focused on. There’s a continuous struggle between doing great work, keeping clients happy, and making agencies profitable, attractive businesses to work for. We’re all a part of that struggle. There’s always room for improvement, and plenty of things agencies, clients, and all of us who work in marketing and advertising could do better, both personally and professionally.
In my own small way, I’ve tried to address those topics over the years and love seeing people discuss them.
If you’re one of the thousands — yes, it’s up to that — of people over the years who’ve commented on one of my columns, or simply retweeted it, thank you. I’ve heard that my columns have been passed around agencies by their CEOs. There’s no higher praise than seeing people like what I write, express their appreciation, and make an effort to pass it along.
Writing for Talent Zoo is fun. It’s cathartic. So I hope to keep writing these columns, and I hope you enjoy reading them.
And as long as the advertising business remains quirky and unpredictable, there’s an endless source of material.
Oh, and if you like these columns, buy my e-book for just 99 cents.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
Visit his copywriting website, see his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.
And please, buy his book for 99 cents.