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October 3, 2009
Another Round, Please

Avast, in reading the words of various “experts” wringing their dainty little hands over the future of our admittedly ill-conceived industry, it appears we are once again in the throes of a self-induced pity fest. Well, woe is us. The end is near. Wah wah wah.

The cause of our impending doom? Take your pick. The arrival of the digital age. Multi-faceted new medias. “Evolving behavior dynamics.” Even a supposedly hyper-savvy Gen-Now audience born immune to our art & copy trickery. No matter. Massive insecurity and apprehension are ruling the day. So perhaps it’s only natural that at times like these we yearn to glamorize the past, desperate to restore institutional pride while searching for new purpose in the brave new world of twitteration.

Of course, such basking in the so-called “glory years” typically leads only to more grandiose self-mythologizing, inflating our already Jabba the Huttian egos rather than providing actual moments of insight. But that said, there is one time-tested prescription to be gleaned from the grey flannel suit generations that has always been effective in recalibrating our meters for the long haul. One that adds perspective. Fosters brutally honest opinion. Inspires confidence. And by temporarily freeing us from our own humanity, deflates the gross self-importance that is our undoing.

What is this miracle cure, this remedy from advertising days gone by?

Liquor, of course.

The sauce. Shine. Hooch. Grog. Kennedy Kool-Aid. Giggle water.

All seeing, all knowing, glory be thy name alcohol.

Recall those days of yesteryear when the advertising man was the cock of the walk, and a tall glass of bourbon was never far from hand. The iconic three-martini lunch itself was not just embraced, but nee, invented by our huckster forefathers. The legends of the business, the McCabes, the Rineys, the McElligotts, all welcomed a generous pour of the devil juice long before the clock struck five. And history shows it served them well.

What they understood was that with the proper and frequent consumption of wondrous distilled liquids, tolerance for all that is intolerable is increased ten-fold. The over-thought minutia which inspires us to fling sharpened x-actos at unsuspecting assistant AEs fades from view. We numb ourselves to our own mindless introspection. And in doing so, concepts become less obtuse. Vocabularies become more exact. Art direction, more approachable.

One could go so far to say that in an industry where 93% of all billable hours are spent simply churning out whatever mindless drivel the client in his title-based wisdom demands, properly-firing brain cells are often the enemy within. Advertising material by and large is simply not the kind of thing that requires Stephen Hawking-like insight on a daily basis. Far from it. By sedating our delusionally over-educated, self-important grey matter, we grow closer to the world we mock and deride. This is a good thing.

Yes, when viewed through the beatific haze of a fifth or sixth vodka tonic, the basic truths of advertising are revealed. Consider the classics of advertising humor. Baseball bats to the groin. Stupidity bordering on mental retardation. Rake handles to the face. And of course, monkeys. Monkeys galore. All are as rib-tickling to the abstinent Des Moines housewife at high noon as they are to a pickled creative team after a 12-gimlet boat race. Sober or otherwise, they just work. The proof is in the 120 proof pudding.

Little known fact has it that the iconic VW “Lemon” ad was borne from a week-long Bernbach rye whiskey bender that would have made Lindsay Lohan’s liver run for cover. And David Ogilvy? The only thing he despised more than san serif body copy was starting the workday with an empty decanter of Scotch. Look it up. It’s in his book.

And then there’s the great cliché of campaigns spontaneously scribbled out on a cocktail napkin. Of course, before those napkins were called into action, many a Rob Roy or Gin Rickey had been assuredly sucked back, each tumbler taking its imbiber one step closer to another Clio-esque concept. Cliché’s rarely lie. And it’s no coincidence that few if any award-winning ideas have come from the midst of a sparkling water-fueled social hour.

So if we are to return to those halcyon times, or at least ease our considerable anxiety, what’s needed is not another 300-page dissertation attempting to redefine the role of our craft. What’s needed are more open bars and sympathetic expense accounts. Yes, times have changed. The internet makes everything different. So did the VCR. So did television. So did radio. So did the printed page.

And through it all, there was the kindly haze of weekday lubrication. So enough with the over-intellectualization of modern consumer behavior and “non-traditional engagement.” Get over it. Thanks to hard liquor’s loving presence, we survived then. And Chivas Regal-willing, we will endure for generations to come.

But enough with the jibber jabber. The sun is high and my glass is needing a refill. After all, I have headlines to write.

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An advertising ex-patriot, bon vivant, and ridiculously infrequent editor of Adweak.com, the eponymous The Editor tweets rumor, innuendo and blatantly fake advertising news headlines from a moderately fortified compound deep in the Mexican jungle. When upright and conscious, he can be followed at twitter.com/@adweak.

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