Why are we all such f***ing d*cks?
If you're reading this, you probably work in advertising.
And that's good, because I've got a question for you. And for myself. And for all our colleagues around the country: Why are we all such fucking dicks?
This is a creative profession. Not, as I've said before, creative in the sense that we are all artists creating art for Art's sake. But ultimately we are asked to produce creative content. And the first problem with creative content is that its value is wholly subjective. What's good to one might be hackery to another. It's an absolute truth, and we all know it. So with only that caveat in mind one might find it a bit surprising that we are so comfortable speaking so negatively in such absolute terms about one another's work. But we do. Oh man, do we.
Perhaps not the greatest offenders but likely the most visible examples of fucking dickery live in the comments section of our industry's very prominent gossip blog AgencySpy. We tell each other: don't go there. Don't read the stories - especially about your own stuff. And, for the love of God, don't read the comments.
But we do. We can't help it. And what do we find?
Well, let me give you some context. Here's an ad featured just yesterday (December 16, 2014) on AgencySpy:
I'm choosing this feature because currently it is the most recent one on the site. I didn't work on the ad, or touch it in any way. I don't work at BBH. And while I'll agree that it's not The Man Who Walked Around the World, it's not bad. It's visually interesting and pretty well executed. So what did our commenters on AgencySpy have to say?
Well the top comment literally derides it for not being as good as the 1986 music video for John Lennon's "Imagine". So... I guess, take that, BBH.
Another commenter piled on with
"I agree. This is pathetic. BBH NY will never be BBH UK with this small minded thinking."
Extra Dick Points for the username, "Caputo is kaputt'o" in an actual personal swipe at actual Human Being with Feelings GCD Gerard Caputo. The comments were no kinder from there. Look for yourself if you like.
And while it's true that this is literally the comment section (the troll's breeding ground) of a gossip blog, it's also true that this is not only typical of the sentiment seen all too often in our industry, it's actually pretty light. I have personally been invited to kill myself based on ads I've done. And look, I'm not saying this ad necessarily needs to be praised or emulated; remember I just grabbed it because it's the most recent example. But Jesus, people.
We all know how ads are made. We know that ideas aren't produced in a creative vacuum. First of all, we're hired advertisers. We're supposed to sell something, which means there's a filter on everything from the jump. We're not writing a short film. We're writing a short film that sells shoelaces.
But we soldier on. And that idea we have three beers deep and jot giddily into our notebooks before going home and sleeping the sleep of the Creatively Righteous has to run a fucking GAUNTLET before it appears on-screen. We have creative partners. Creative Directors. Planners and Strategists. Account supervisors. CLIENTS.
Remember clients? The guys that pay us to have ideas? THEY get to pick which ideas to produce. And even with the best pitches, with perfect strategy and impeccable research, and the best account team with great client relationships, and fully brilliant creative, they don't always choose our favorites. They don't always choose the most creatively compelling concepts in our eyes. They aren't always as excited as we are to risk a quarter of their marketing budget and their jobs along with it so that the edgy Bill Hicksian piece of social satire we created comes to life, when they feel that a simple price message will do. And maybe they are wrong. Or maybe we are. But ultimately it's their decision, and that can suck sometimes.
But let's not forget:
budget, production company, set design, location, wardrobe, actors, directors, editors, animation, CG, post work, music, mix.
Look at that list. Literally any one of those things, done wrong, can break a spot. Just wreck it.
Now put a celebrity in the mix somewhere. You think they won't affect the outcome? That means you haven't worked with one yet.
And don't forget that during that whole process, everything is going back through cycles of approval and adjustment through the same line of people that approved the original idea. Then maybe your client's CMO has to pass it to the President, or the CEO. Or the board. Maybe they have problems with that one shot that you love. Maybe it dies right there. Suddenly you're a hack. I spent an entire month living in Chicago away from my wife, friends and family producing five television spots that I hope no one ever finds. It wasn't that I didn't want them to be good. And they weren't bad because I (or my agency, or creative partners for that matter) was incapable of having better ideas than the ones that made it to the screen. But man, the spots were bad. It happens. It's a reality of our industry.
But even though we all know all that, and also know that even if this were a pure piece of creative made in a creative vacuum, subjectivity would reign, we tear it apart. We call work pathetic. We call people hacks. We belittle entire agencies that literally represent some people's life work. We are fucking dicks.
And here's a final thought: many of us have been taught that good creative requires empathy. Empathy with your audience. Get in their heads and understand what they feel and what they want, and you'll understand how to move them. So we try to understand the Inner-City Youth, the Suburban Housewife, the All Mighty "Millennial". Foodies, Gearheads, Music Lovers, Victims even. We are willing to try to understand where they are coming from so that we can speak to them on their own terms. But people in our own industry, in the same positions, facing the same realities that we do? We assume that their creative output and yes, what we perceive as their creative failures, can only be the result of their creative incompetence. And we say so. And though we hide behind the veil of Internet Anonymity, the people we rip apart are not anonymous. They are right there listed in the credits. And they are reading what we write.
So my question to you all, and to myself, is again: Why?