Why Aren't Ad Folk Changing the World?

People Don't Care About Our Hype; They Care About Our Actions

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
Yes, your [blank] does stink.

Sometimes we advertising people walk around here talking about how good or great we are, how we are having an impact on the world ... how we are making a difference. Like we are the most creative people in the world, like we are setting trends.

Well, guess what? We aren't.

Outside of the industry and our circle of friends and family, who is paying attention to what we are doing? Not many folks I would wager.

Oh, here comes the chorus of "people notice our work, they compliment us on it all the time" or some version of that. Yeah right.

To that I offer this:

Steve Harvey, the comedian who hosted "It's Showtime at the Apollo," once told an audience after a very bad performance something like this: "Ya'll consider this a public service announcement: You parents, family members and friends need to stop telling little Johnny or Suzy that they have talent because they perform in the basement at some party. Ya'll need to stop telling those children that they have talent and they need to perform at the Apollo! This is the Apollo! We'll let them know if they don't have any talent."

Those folks giving you compliments are like the friends and family that Steve Harvey was talking about.

While the world is saying something totally different to us.

Need proof? Take a look at Fast Company's "Most Creative People in Business 2010." See any of our names there? Nope. See any of the so called "industry greats" there? Nope. (Yes, Fast Company has done this for more than one year and there were advertising folks on last year's list, but this is about the present and the future.)

Why not?

Because the world doesn't care about our hype, it cares about our actions! How sad is it that an industry based on creativity, and yes that is what we are based on, does not dominate a list of the most creative people in business. And we know that Fast Company is familiar with the advertising industry!

You see, while we are talking about changing the world or having a positive impact or making a difference, oddly enough, there are people out in the real world very quietly putting their heads down, laying their nose to the grindstone and doing what we are talking about. And the world is noticing.

We are being out-worked.

Now, I know here is where many of us are going to start exclaiming that we aren't here for recognition; our job is to serve the clients. Well, check out the list! Even "the clients" are on it!

I'm not going to lie or pretend -- I want on that list! I want to make a difference, and I am proud to say it. Some of the most memorable advertising used to be advertising that made a difference: pollution, drugs, abuse, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, seat belts, saving the planet, saving people, fighting injustice, women's rights, civil rights and education. I think we can all name some cause that we were touched by due to its advertising.

What happened? How did we let others outthink us? This isn't about a single person or agency; this speaks volumes about the state of our industry.

We've lost something. I know, I know, there are plenty of agencies volunteering and doing public work, but what is our motivation? Are we doing it to really make a change or impress a client? When was the last time we threw ourselves into a cause the way we should be doing for our clients?

I think we are dealing with a huge amount of self-hate. Yeah, and there is a healthy amount of external hate, but the pettiness of those inside the industry is amazing.

Advertising is an industry of egos, which is the reality of who we are. Some of the contempt and hate we have earned. Our egotism/arrogance has resulted in certain people believing we needed to be taken down a peg or two. Listen to some of the comments coming from the client side in articles about dealing with agencies. Heck, listen to the comments coming from inside the industry, from folks who take pleasure in any miscue by any of the more popular agencies or people. There is sheer delight in some of the comments posted on Ad Age any time an agency that has won awards has a setback. (Seriously folks, the Crispin hatin' is getting out of hand. And there are more agencies and people that are hated on just as much.)

Some of this general hate is deserved, some isn't. None of us can be particularly proud of the fact that our industry is so poorly represented on this list. But I love those folks who are going to claim that this is only one list, and it is only the 2010 list -- we should be focused on the clients, not getting on this list.

I'm calling "bull dookie" to that!

Clients don't want less creative, they want less ego and less attitude. Creative and attitude are not mutually exclusive -- creative can exist without the ego or less of it. Clients want to make a difference or have an impact on the world. Every client wants to work with the best. No one ever wants the second best of anything.

Ask them.

I'll do it.

Hello clients, are there any of you out there who would like to have your brand associated with a great cause or have a positive brand image with potential customers because of the work you are doing to make the world a better place? If so, just let your agency know.

Yo, small shops and freelancers, there's no better way to get noticed than one kick-butt public service campaign. Pick a cause and champion it like there is no tomorrow. Instead of telling clients about what you can do, show them. Most non-profits are so thankful for the effort that they will let you do work most clients would not. But please pick something you believe in; you'll be surprised at how motivated you will be to do something with impact, and that stands out. Stop talking about what you can do and show it!

What is really going on with those who offer up excuse after excuse as to why they don't try to make a difference is that they are either too greedy or too lazy or incapable of doing work.

Seriously, have you ever noticed how folks who were never really good at doing something are often the harshest critics of those who are good at it? There are no two words that will send certain folks in advertising into a rage like "award shows." Boy, they come from everywhere to tell you how pointless and useless the shows are, and how nothing matters but producing results for the clients. But have you ever noticed that very few of the big shops sing this tune? I wonder why? Could it be that agencies like BBDO, Crispin, TWBA, Goodby and others know that, at some level, clients want winners working on their businesses? Nah, that can't be true. I mean human beings would never behave like that.

I never could understand anyone who did not want to be the best at what they do -- I just can't. I try to be less competitive, but I can't. There is a satisfaction in simply competing against folks and discovering how good you are or aren't. I hate losing, but it only makes me try harder. When I hear or read people dissing the award shows, I wonder if they have lost too many times or are too afraid to compete or maybe they won so many awards that they just don't feel like competing any more. No, that last one is different; that person would not talk down about awards they won in the past, and people aren't like that. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Look, enough with the talk. Put up or shut up. Stop planning and thinking, and get to doing. If you know social media that well, then use it to make a change or a statement! If you can craft a TV spot that is emotionally moving, then get to crafting! Whatever it is you are so good at, get to it. Stop talking and start doing!

We can't let the 2011 list look like this.

Stop smelling up the place!

Enough talk -- time to go to work.

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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