But there is a gray area. Several trillion years ago, when I first tried to penetrate the then-glamorous world of advertising in London, I took a copywriting course. One of those ubiquitous "I'll teach you how to take my job" jobs given by a suave Terence Stamp/John Lennon-circa-White Album type wearing a "granny takes a trip" antique fur coat and driving a black Mini Cooper S.
The birds thought he was dishy and the blokes thought he was gear. We never quite figured out where he worked, but he dropped all the right agency names: Boase Massimi, CDP, Geers Gross. And as for the commercials he showed us weekly, well! They were the award winners of the past couple of years, the classics: Hamlet cigars; Homepride flour; Heineken ("The beer that refreshes the parts others can't reach"); the amazing P.G.Tips tea chimpanzees (who were having 60-second conversations with one another way before Babe).
He'd talk about working with Ridley and Adrian, Parker and Lester . . . this guy must have some job, the hottest perch in London; did we all want to learn how to take it!
Only thing was, he hadn't done any of those spots. Not a one! He'd show up to teach our class, screen these incredible commercials, but he never actually, point blank, claimed to have worked on them himself.
Fact is, he was just a naf-looking projectionist. He'd bonked most of the tastier scrubbers in the class before we discovered that he really wrote trade ads at a dump called Dorland.
Cut to two years back. I attended one of those preposterous faux awards-style celebrations of Grand Global Class Creativity sponsored by a well-known worldwide detergent dealer in Ohio. Creative directors from the client's roster agencies gave speeches on different aspects of sheer advertising brilliance, illustrated with their own detergent spots. No wonder these wankers have to invent their own awards. Then, after an endless procession of boring whiners, another creative director got up and delivered a presentation on humor in ads, complete with some of the year's funniest spots. The Bud frogs; the delightful Staples back-to-school thing; "Got Milk?"; and a hysterical Pakistani telephone commercial (he just had the rough cut).
The audience loved it. With each spot, their applause intensified. Belly laughter rumbled, roared and reverberated around the auditorium. The creative director at the podium smirked and nodded knowingly and beamed with full kvell. At the end, he was cheered like a Christian, and he soaked up adulation and warm champagne well into the night.
I think his agency's North Platte branch had created one of the commercials. The rest had nothing to do with anything except they were terrific and people loved watching them. Guess which agency would get the next worldwide fat-free detergent assignment?
I was privileged to bask in the Aura Effect yet again while "consulting" with a small startup in Soho last summer. They do snappy POP promos and trade leaflets and pitch accounts on alternate Tuesdays. The agency had just two spots that it could call its very own, both cheap and cheerful. But "Ted," the chairman, was an account man at A Large Agency when it did the "Excellent Beer" campaign. So those spots are on the presentation reel. And "Al," the vice chairman was at A Hot Agency when it did the "Really Clever" car commercial. So that comes on after the beer stuff.
Now, the truth and rationale of this compilation is honorably mentioned before the screening. But by the time it ends, prospective clients are so bowled over with greatness, we're talking special promo assignments and snappy trade leaflets in next to no time.
Want to take other people's jobs? Just taking their work might do the trick.
Jamie Graham is a VP-senior copywriter at Arnold Advertising, Boston. He swears