An advertising teacher of mine once told my class something way back in the mid-1990s that still sort of rings true. “Don’t get too dependent on computers. Because your computer will [screw] you, sooner or later.” Note: he didn’t say “screw.” This was told to us in the pre-flatscreen, pre-iPhone, pre-WiFi era, when all websites still began with “http://www…” Macs were still the computer of choice among advertising students and professionals, and we spent hours in front of them perfecting conceptual genius using Photoshop, and dare I say it, Quark. Most of us still carried blank sketchbooks of various sizes and used them ‘til every page was filled with ideas worth presenting. We hit the Macs only when we had something worthy.
My teacher’s prophecy, a late 20th-century fear of a Rise of the Machines, an era in which both student and professional would become over-dependent on technology and therefore lose the basic skills of art directing by hand, copywriting on the fly, and—who knows—water coloring on a canvas, came true, more or less. Computers are smaller, now in tablet or cell-phone size. And you’re not reading this on newsprint. However, art direction and copywriting have not disappeared into obsolescence. Technology has made communication, and the tools to communicate, more accessible. It’s debatable if there’s been a rise in actual talent. It’s just that more people can create stuff. It’s like the old saying, “Those who can’t sing, sing rock and roll. Those who can’t sing rock and roll sing it anyway.” In the ad world, it’s hard to judge. Is there a dearth of talent? Is the work better or worse than it always was? On what evidence does one evaluate the current level of talent? The recent crop of consumer-generated Doritos commercials?
And here we are, completely dependent on technology for all our business needs. Since everything is shared online, the greater the chance of the computer doing to you what my teacher warned. Nowadays, God help you if you leave your iPhone at home (or in your car on a hot summer day). Meanwhile, the office phone sits there, underused and gathering never-to-be returned voicemails. People go a little nutso when the Internet is down, or when the LCD projector fails to connect during a presentation, or when there’s one bar on your cell phone instead of three, or when you’re forced to reboot, or when an app fails to load or crashes altogether, or when a presentation deck is just too big to email. The possibilities for failure are endless.
Now, going back to the days of X-ACTO blades, spraymount, and typesetting is about as likely as your next car being a horse. Besides, we’ve anointed Mad Men to be the keepers of our glorious advertising past. I’m sure most of us will take Firefox, Safari, and Chrome over an office filled with smoke, overflowing ashtrays, and open misogyny. The stories of our days in advertising we may tell one day probably won’t be as colorful as those of our predecessors. But at least we can pull out an iPad or laptop to make a point instead of yammering on. And then perhaps get back to work, if we choose. Now that’s progress.
Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.
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