Truth in Advertising

Before We Can Be Truthful With Others, We Have to Be Honest With Ourselves

By Published on .

Derek Walker
Derek Walker
"You're as sexy and handsome as Denzel. You're as smart as Einstein. You're as savvy a businessperson as Warren Buffett. You're as creative a genius as Galileo," I proudly say to the "advertising giant" I see in the mirror.

Then I gleefully head off to bed for a great night sleep!

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves that allow us to sleep at night.

We all do it -- lie to ourselves so that we can make it through the night or the day. We tell ourselves harmless, little white lies to make our situation more bearable.

But when we start to make these lies into our reality, they are neither harmless nor little. A lot of what ails advertising can be traced back to these harmless, little white lies we're telling ourselves -- and believing.

Generalization warning! The following is a lot of generalization. I know plenty of us are working everyday to do the best work we can possibly do. But I am concerned about what I am hearing from folks both young and old working in the industry. I hope you don't see yourself in any of the following, but if you do, please just think about what I'm saying.

Now let's talk about some of these lies we are telling ourselves:

Creative is overrated. Uh, excuse me, but what in Hades is our job if it is not to find a creative way to open, grow and carry on conversations between our clients and people?

Embracing this lie gives birth to a series of creative-related lies that are insidious and dangerous to the health of an agency or an advertising professional's career. This is a free pass to do sorry or mediocre work; to not care enough to push yourself or your people to be better; to take short cuts and not invest the time and energy into our craft to make us the powerful resource that our clients deserve.

If anything, creative is underrated.

Here are some of the other lies that are a direct result of believing this lie:

Our work doesn't suck. Yes. Yes, it does. And if you're telling yourself this, then you already know it does. Deep down inside your subconscious recognizes that the work sucks, and offers you this defensive response to protect you from the truth.

We are just as good as the "hot" shops. No. No, you're not. If you were, the work would reflect it. I'm not saying that the work would be creative for creative's sake but that the work would be smart, intuitive and engaging. The work you're doing for your clients would stand out from their competition.

The award shows and contests are a waste. Now, two different and distinct groups champion this falsehood:

  1. Those who have won awards and seen their salaries or agency billings rise with each win and no longer need the awards to justify the "A-class" rates that they are charging. This is like someone who is wealthy telling everyone else who isn't that being wealthy is overrated. Yeah, right.

  2. Those who can never seem to win an award of any significance. Their not winning is someone else's fault, their work is just as good as those that are winning. (This is what we get for raising our children to think everything they do is great or that everyone deserves a trophy) These folks mistakenly think that there's no connection between creative and results. For many of these folks it is easier to dismiss the contest/awards than to confront the possibility that their work simply isn't that good.
Not every execution should be a home run attempt. The client doesn't deserve or need great work. Do you kiss your mother or spouse with the mouth that tells this lie?!

No matter what you are charging, no client has ever said to your agency, "No, we don't want great work. We're paying so little for your services that we are cool with getting mediocre or average work."

I double dog dare you to tell any client that you are going to give them average work and yet charge them your normal rates.

Human insight time: When is the last time you as a customer did business with anyone and thought to yourself, "For what I'm paying, I hope they give me their second best?" Never. Then why do you think that deep down, your clients are cool with it?

It is the client's fault the work is what it is. Yes and no. Client/agency relationships are just that: RELATIONSHIPS! Most of the time when a relationship goes bad, neither party has clean hands. Both have contributed to the failing of the relationship.

If your clients are bullying you around and taking advantage of you, then they are wrong. But you picked them!

Yes, you did.

No one held a gun to your head and made you take the business. You could have been more selective in the type of client you went after. You could have decided not to sacrifice your dignity for a paycheck. You could have educated your clients to what you provide and how you will be treated.

But the money was good and you had employees to think about. Well, if that is the case. Your decisions and willingness to compromise placed you in this position. If you sold your soul for profits, you have no one to blame but yourself.

And please, don't give me that crap about I don't know what I'm talking about. All the agencies we love to hate, the Crispin's, Goodby's, Wieden's, Martin's, Chiat's and the many others have all drawn a line in the sand and let clients know what they will and will not accept. There is more to running an agency than chasing every client with a freaking pulse.

No one respects a person who puts out with little or no effort. Sure, they'll use you but they will never respect you. (This is a future blog waiting to be written.)

Y'all are gonna cause me to lose my religion.

I could go on but I better stop, there are several other lies I want to list but this is getting long. Let me end with this:

If everyone is doing great work, then why is there so much bad advertising out here?

We need to stop lying to ourselves or at least stop believing everything we're telling ourselves. We aren't fooling anyone, except ourselves.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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