As an anonymous columnist in an advertising pub, I might not be the first one you'd expect to hear talking about the importance of having a name. But lately, as old industry models break apart and the path to ad fame becomes increasingly murky, I'm starting to sense I'm not the only one in the business feeling a little nameless these days.
If you're a creative reading this, you might know what I mean. For the rest of you, let me back up a few years.
In the early days of advertising, things were simple for a creative. You went to ad school. You worked your butt off on fake ads for everything from condoms to the U.S. Census Bureau. Finally, if you were lucky and somewhat good (or just slipped in the back door from another department), you gained access to the promised land. You made it to The Right Place.
Seated in your cube at The Right Place, you'd pour your heart into your small-ball print assignment, work your way up to a full-page magazine ad, paying your dues to enter the coveted realm of TV. You churned out script after script until, if you were very lucky, you became the guy that did "The ____ spot." Do enough of these to prove it wasn't a fluke, and you would earn something that could never be taken away from you.
You became, quite simply, a Name.
Being a Name, as the name implies, had its advantages. Names could expect to grace the covers of trade mags and be flown in to judge award shows at exotic locales. Agencies wanted the Name. Many a surprise all-agency meeting was kick-started with the pronouncement, "We got (the Name)!" And so the Names could name their price. It didn't even matter if you were a good fit for the agency's culture or not.
But lately, it seems like the industry has been becoming a bit, shall we say, Nameless. With the emergence of digital and the ensuing turbulence, the spotlight seems unable to lock onto a suitable Name to illuminate, and posing as an authority just seems to be inviting trouble. In other words, in what was once a Name-driven industry, it's getting harder and harder to point out who the Names actually are.
The reasons why are endless. Back when the attention was fixed on print and TV, it was easy to know who was who, and which Name did what. Now throw in the technology aspect -- today inseparable from the big idea -- and it becomes harder to know which Name deserves the praise. The programmer? The designers? The technology itself? Looking at all the new credits, one can't help but feel it's getting harder to become a Name when there are just so many names. Even the awards, once a near-scientific gauge of Nameyness, are starting to feel suspect.
With creatives floating more and more between "trad" and less-established digital shops, few of which can be ranked with any certainty, nowadays you can't even become a Name by being attached to other Names.
All of which begs the question: Had our industry become too Name-centric in the first place? Is this the end of the Name as we know it, and the beginning of a new era of advertising sans ego? Or has the explosion of our universe simply created a Name vacuum which, abhorred by nature and creative egos alike, will eventually be filled again?
Maybe the new Names will simply be the ones with the knack for thinking up tools and initiatives that create ripples in the world. The ones that intuitively know what people want, who make things we can't help but play with and use; the ones with the talent and the drive to tune out the chaos and the buzzwords and get it done.
Most likely, as always, the Names are the ones who aren't thinking about becoming Names, but are just grinding out their vision of the way things should be, day after day. Over and over again. Until they prove it's not a fluke.
Given their (hopefully) increasing utilitarian value, maybe the Names will even be recognized outside business -- a status the old Names rarely achieved. I like to think they're busy right now, lifting themselves and maybe the rest of us out of the old ad business, into an entirely new position. A position beyond words like traditional, digital, interactive or even advertising.
Chances are it already exists -- there's just no name for it yet.