Confessions of a Comment-Thread Junkie

What Is It About Advertising That Inspires Such Hater-ation?

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Hey, did you hear about that marginally well-known creative who was just promoted to better title at a decent agency?

Anonymous: "Oh, please. What has he ever done? His best spot a ripped-off a scam ad from Brazil in 2006."

Anonymous 1:06 p.m.: "And what about you? Your last ad was probably a feminine-hygiene testimonial you did freelancing out of your parents' basement."

Anonymous 1:19 p.m.: "Creativity is overrated. Please tell me exactly how many tubes of foot cream (in ounces) that guy has sold?"

Anonymous 1:27 p.m.: "I loved that foot-cream spot! So breakthrough!"

If this exchange is unfamiliar, welcome to advertising. That's pretty much every thread ever posted regarding news of a move within the industry. Rounded out by attacks on the person's publicity photo, and the occasional dead-on-but-creepy personal comment about the promoted that it gives more than a few of us a tiny shiver of schadenfreude and makes us snigger.

Ours has never been a particularly tender business (if "Mad Men" can be trusted as a historical reference.) But with the ascendancy of websites' comment sections as a forum to vent, the real level of haterism today is undeniable. We can chalk some of it up to personal vendettas, professional rivalry or high-school insecurity. But surely this kind of thing doesn't go down on aerospace, medical or charity blogs?

What is it about advertising that inspires so much raw emotion toward our colleagues? And why is it, in an industry that has saved us from becoming accountants and cover-band singers, that so many of us come off so bitter?

Being one of those poor souls who has ogled the occasional ad-thread car crash, I thought I'd ask myself. Guiltily, I can admit to an involuntary, self-satisfied titter when someone I knew and didn't care for got zinged.

Part of the ruckus, no doubt, stems from the fact that we are in a subjective, artistic industry. How can we agree on a worthy creative if no one can agree on a definition of "creative" work? Surely, this is a subject for another article, if not a whole book.

But what about all that bitterness? Most likely the prime suspect would be anger over a system that has creatives conceiving and pumping out thousands of idea-babies, only to see them slaughtered in secret backrooms or right in front of our eyes. Day after day. Year after year. This process is not for the weak. And for some, it might lead to a desire to rail at the system and those who would be promoted within it. To quote Alfred in "The Dark Knight": "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

In most cases, I'm willing to bet the mudslingers don't even want the position being written about. Because not to get too zen, but if they did, they would be there. And they'd know the pressures that went along with it well enough not to cast stones.

But beyond, or because of, our imperfect system, there may lie a deeper source of ire within us. It has to do with a nagging feeling many creatives harbor but few admit openly. And that is, the secret belief that we've had dozens of ideas as good as That Guy's -- we just haven't gotten the right breaks. This leads us to an even more irritating conclusion: They just got lucky.

And actually, that is true. This business does take some luck. Of course, what we often forget when we're looking for a reason to knock someone, is what it took for them to get lucky. Because if we follow the logic backward, they were also lucky enough to get into an agency that supported good work. They were lucky enough to be specifically asked on to a good assignment, or even create the opportunity. And they were lucky enough times to sell something notable or interesting through a system that, as we well know, does everything it can to prevent just that.

Is anyone perfect for the job? It's a flawed world, and an inexact business. I like to think in the absence of hard performance stats or rules, we're all doing the best we can. One day, luck willing, that press photo will be you. But in the meantime, the more people we can be happy for in this circus, the happier we'll be, too. Which is why, the next time I read about a random colleague getting a break, rather than passively surveying the carnage, I think I'm going to sit up, post a brief congratulations and wish him well.

(Unless, of course, I just don't like the SOB.)

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