It’s hard not to be fatalistic about our work sometimes
I live in one of those neighborhoods where the postal workers deliver the mail door-to-door on foot. One day, I was home when the postal worker handed me my mail, then said, “Hold on, I have some…garbage for you.” He then handed me a small stack of sales circulars and coupon packs.
It startled me. “Garbage.” While yes, I put it all in the recycling bin, I was a little amazed how he summarily dismissed the pile that he himself was delivering. Stuff that a friend of mine (or someone reading this) easily could have worked on.
Is this dismissiveness an attitude that also pervades our business? Are we in advertising becoming fatalistic about our own work? Does our pessimism result in work that’s either intentionally, or unintentionally, half-assed?
At one point or another, most people in advertising curse the very thing they’re working on at the moment. I once worked with a very talented art director who loathed working on emails. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “Who reads this crap?” Perhaps he was talking from his own lack-of-opening-email experience, and he didn’t think designing emails was the sexiest assignment in the world. But clearly email is important to many, many marketers, and there’s lots of instances in which it works well.
And on some level, those sales circulars work. Marketers wouldn’t use them if they didn’t work, right? You can reach the same conclusion about every media tactic, no matter how unsexy it might seem. Yet still, there’s a perception that no one listens to the radio or assumes everyone skips through ads on TV. It’s not only a public attitude. It often comes from our own industry’s so-called thought leaders.
The subtle message that we’re sending amongst ourselves is: Don’t try to do it well. It’s not worth the effort because no one’s paying attention anyway. Recently I picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly. Millions of people read it every week. But out of a dozen full-page ads, not one had a decent concept or headline. I can’t imagine any of the ads had stopping power for anyone else. Seems that lots of ad people decided to phone it in.
No one I’ve ever met in advertising wakes up each morning determined to make work that’s ignored or disdained. But it happens. It’s hard to keep coming back after ideas continually get watered down or killed. It’s tough to create brilliance from mundane products or assignments. But we collectively make it harder when we assume that no matter what we make, it won’t be effective or attention-getting.
With so much advertising, marketing, and content work being put out into the world, from ads to blogs to content and everything in between, we’re living in an age where everything just feels smaller, or at least doesn’t have large significance. Tweets. Facebook ads. Email. But the truth is any one piece could be the trigger that generates someone’s interest.
I think we can all redouble our efforts to make any assignment better. Make it worth watching. Make it worth reading. Make it worth noticing. Not half-assed, but whole-assed. A little left-brained and a little right-brained. Plus a good amount of heart.
People will always throw ads straight in the garbage. But we don’t have to give them another reason to do it.
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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.
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