Advertising “just isn’t ‘fun’ any more”, opined Ad Age last month. High-flying American ad men are voting with their feet, leaving their multi-million dollar salaries to spend more time BMXing. Over here creatives have responded with what’s known as ‘Blitz spirit’: a peculiarly British combination of nostalgia, hiding and complaining.
Where did it all go wrong? Well, everyone else is to blame. Firstly clients, for employing people to manage their advertising. This has lead to a sort of personnel arms race, with the accounts department growing to man the fortifications, each suit marking their opposite number client-side. The reason we work in pairs, the secret reason, was to make it two against one. Sadly this ratio can no longer be relied upon, and the work suffers. So sad, so sad.
Secondly, Sir Martin Sorrell is to blame, for buying up all the agencies and insisting his holding company, WPP, turns a profit. I’ve made it a deliberate policy to try not to work for the man David Ogilvy once called an “odious little jerk”, but nonetheless have spent nearly half my career lining his pockets. At some agencies even the canteen is a WPP concern, leaving you with the disconcerting feeling that you never really have any money, the old bean counter just lets you hold some of his for a moment.
Then there’s the planners. A whole department with whom we have to share half the praise, half the money and none of the responsibility. A strategic error that, being planners, they have exploited ruthlessly. And the internet, obviously. An invention that allows the client to be simultaneously on your back and the other side of the world. That gives you instant access to all the ideas that anyone has ever had, turning your job into something much more like sifting a rubbish tip for copper wire than is really flattering. That’s before we get on to crowd-sourcing, user-generated content and oh God it’s all too terrible isn’t it?
My advice to my creative brethren? Man up, yeah? Nostalgia is a dubious pleasure. When people look back on the past, they tend to edit out the unmemorable bits, like boredom. Ad men drank more in the old days, not because they were happy and carefree, but to fill the time while they waited for their lithographs to come back from the studio. My life is busy, and that’s how I like it. When people imagine the past, they do so, necessarily, as though it were part of the present. When you look enviously at old D&AD annuals it’s easy to forget that the first person to do an ad without a logo made a creative leap into an unknown that was, then, totally unknown. There are just as many easy wins now as ever – virtually none at all.
The money, OK. But what we’ve lost in income, we’ve made up in influence. Twenty years ago you were lucky if your ad reached one million people. But now a good idea will travel the breadth of oceans in seconds and be watched by tens of millions, on purpose. Who could ask for more?
So if you want to leave, great, leave, more work for me. But if you’re going to stay, will you please, please just stop whining?
‘Gordon Comstock’ is a copywriter at a London-based agency. He blogs at notvoodoo.blogspot.com