“So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another year over/and a new one just begun...”
I’m not big on Christmas music, but that John Lennon song is one I can stomach. That’s because it doesn’t implore you to deck the halls with tacky lights or credit card bills, it asks you where you are, existentially speaking, right here and right now.
Advertising people, collectively, are a very self-examining and self-critical bunch. So while you’re polishing off the holiday leftovers, here are some things to ponder as you begin 2008:
Is what you’re doing really worth anything? How do you contribute to the world? Is our industry making the world a better place to live?
It’s not an easy thing to contemplate. We all make our little Faustian bargains to pay the bills. Advertising isn’t brain surgery, but it isn’t larceny, either.
Every year, someone does a survey of the most trusted professions. And ever year, “advertising practitioners” rank down at the bottom near “car salesmen.” Believe me, we’re not about to shoot up the respectability rankings when they repeat the survey this year.
Frankly though, I can’t think of a profession in the industrial world that’s a purely altruistic endeavor. With a simple educational detour, I could easily have been someone in a more respected field but with questionable motives. Like a doctor who crawls into bed with pharmaceutical companies and insurers. A duplicitous lawyer. Or a professor more concerned with my tenure track than with teaching.
Still, it’s hard to feel that advertising really benefits the world. Clients don’t really appreciate it, consumers try to avoid it, and on the totem pole of commercial art, we’re pretty low. Yet, we’re part of the free market machinery, part of the cycle that keeps goods and services in demand, creating jobs and wealth for some portion of the world.
Perhaps in 2008 we can all apply our skills for a good cause. I know I will.
Recently, I did some work for a local organization that resettles political refugees. I wrote, shot and edited a video in 48 hours, having only used iMovie once before. I won't win any awards for this like I would if I'd slapped a sign saying "LUNCHBOX" on the side of a dumpster to raise awareness for homelessness. But that's OK. I got more satisfaction from it than anything else I did this year. A whole roomful of people clapped in appreciation when I showed the final video to the organization. That's gotta be worth something.
Does occasionally doing good make the day-to-day grind of the ad business a little easier to swallow? Perhaps. But inherently, I don’t think it’s all that healthy for ad people to walk around thinking they do a lot of good. It’s okay to self-loathe a little. Creativity is borne from a desire to make the world better with our art—our concepts, our words, our ideas that seemingly no one else can exactly reproduce. So there’s always a sense of discontent. That what fuels me, and I suspect it fuels most of you.
For us ad professionals, I think the best thing to do is keep in mind that in 2008, everything can change, and nothing at all could change. It’s up to you. If you can’t move your ad agency forward or your client forward, move yourself forward—even if you do it in your spare time. You’ll go a lot farther without office politics, dramas, and processes holding you back.
2008 going to be interesting year. We’ve got an up-for-grabs Presidential election that promises to be wild and nasty. The Olympics will shine a light on Communist China—who makes most of our household trinkets and to whom we owe nearly a trillion dollars. And the economy is teetering on a precipice of subprime-induced chaos. When I think of it in those terms, the myriad of challenges facing the advertising industry seem relatively trivial.
So, Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. Without any fear.